absentee ballot for overseas voter

The Votemaster FAQ

Many people have asked who am I, what my qualifications are, and why am I doing this. People have speculated that I am a Clinton administration official, a bored retired statistician and more. Welcome to the Votemaster FAQ.

Who are You?

My name is Andrew Tanenbaum. I am one of the 7 million U.S. citizens living abroad. I am a professor of computer science at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Most of you have never heard of me but in an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny corner of the universe I have done enough stuff that Google has somehow managed to dig up 10,000 pages referring to me.

When I am not collecting data, analyzing it, or blogging, my day job is doing the kind of stuff professors at major research universities normally do. The best part is working with young people, especially my graduate students.

To answer the question of why I am in The Netherlands, my lovely wife is Dutch and long ago we decided that she couldn't do her kind of work in the U.S. whereas I could work anywhere. I visit the U.S. several times a year and am thoroughly familiar what is going on there. I also read the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post on-line every day, as well as numerous political websites and blogs.

I grew up in Westchester County, just north of New York City, a Republican bastion and then the 5th wealthiest county in the country. My parents were staunch Republicans. They liked Ike. I went to M.I.T. and then got a Ph.D. from the University of California.

What are Your Qualifications?

Here are my qualifications in four key areas. First, I know a lot about politics. I cut my political teeth in California on the 1968 presidential election. I was also a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, buttonholing California state senators and assemblymen, trying to get them to vote for a bill that would protect San Francisco Bay. The bill was enacted into the law that created the BCDC and saved the Bay. I am proud of my contribution.

Now fast forward to 2004. The Democratic Party regards the 7 million overseas Americans as the 51st state and allows them to send delegates to the DNC. I joined Democrats Abroad (DA) and tried to become a delegate. DA uses the famous Iowa caucus system to choose its delegates. I cleared the first hurdle and was elected as a delegate to the World Democrats Abroad caucus in Edinburgh this past March. Nearly 200 elected delegates from as far away as Australia came (at their own expense) for a three-day caucus. We began by pledging allegiance to a huge American flag in the hall. Then we went on to write our platform, elect delegates to the DNC, and make plans for the coming months. Unfortunately, DA gets to send only 9 delegates to the DNC (vs. 96 for Virginia, which has fewer people than DA), so I didn't make it to Boston, but I did learn a lot about politics at the caucus.

Second, I know a fair amount about statistics. Although I majored in physics, I took quite a few math and statistics courses as an undergraduate and in grad school. I understand polling well.

Third I know a lot about computers and the Web. I can write fairly complex software. I wrote MINIX, the precursor to Linux, for example. I also have experience designing Websites, for example, that of the Computer Science Dept. at my university.

Fourth, I am an experienced writer. I have written five books, which have gone through a total of 14 editions and been translated into 22 languages. I have also published well over 100 articles in scholarly journals and conferences. Furthermore, I wrote a humorous/satirical travel book (vaguely similar in tone to those of Paul Theroux), but have never quite got around to finding a publisher.

Why Did You Do This?

In a nutshell, because living abroad I know first hand what the world thinks of America and it is not a pretty picture at the moment. I want people to think of America as the land of freedom and democracy, not the land of arrogance and blind revenge. I want to be proud of America again. The U.S. media do a spectacularly bad job of informing Americans about what is going on in rest of the world. After Sept. 11, the U.S. could do no wrong. The entire world was on America's side. The invasion of Afghanistan was seen as completely justified. After all, the Al-Qaida leadership had to be decapitated. No one questioned that.

But Iraq was a completely different matter. Bush, Cheney, and Powell said they had conclusive proof that Saddam had WMD and could attack at any instant. The rest of the world wanted to see the proof. No proof was forthcoming. The answer was "trust us." We now know there were no WMD. There weren't even factories or labs to produce them. Saddam was an evil dictator with evil fantasies but he was no threat to America. Yet former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said that the planning to invade Iraq began the day Bush was inaugurated. The administration simply misused the horror of Sept. 11 as a convenient excuse for doing something that was already in the works.

Let me tell you a short story. When I was in elementary school, the school was plagued by a bully. He was the biggest, strongest kid around and would beat up anyone he didn't like. We were all exceedingly polite to his face, but hated his guts behind his back. One day he was chasing some poor kid and he tripped and skidded a considerable distance, scraping his face on the rough asphalt of the playground. He was bleeding and in pain, screaming for help. But nobody came to help him. We all just walked away. George Bush is the world's playground bully. The world sees him--and by inference, America--as arrogant, self-centered, and mean. I spoke to Americans from dozens of countries at the DA caucus. Everyone told the same story--the world hates America. When talking to foreigners, I can tell them about the Bill of Rights or freedom or World War II, or whatever I want, but all they see is this big, stupid, arrogant, playground bully and a stolen election in Florida last time. I think America deserves better. I want America to be respected in the world again, and John Kerry can restore the respect America deserves.

Don't believe me that the world hates us? The Guardian, one of Britain's most respected newspapers, ran a column by Charlie Brooker last week ending with this paragaph: "On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses. And Sod's law dictates he'll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all. The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed ..." Then it gets so bad that I refuse to quote it. Maybe Brooker is a nut and maybe it was a joke, but the fact that a serious newspaper would publish this piece shows how deep the hatred of George Bush runs. And this comes from our closest ally. Imagine what people in Spain or Indonesia or the Arab world think.

Now you might be thinking: Who the hell cares if America is the world's pariah, along with, say, North Korea and Zimbabwe? Well, I care, for one, and I think most Americans want to be respected for being a democracy rather than simply being feared because we have more nuclear weapons than anybody else. You can't make the world love you by running commercials full of snarling wolves on worldwide TV.

But there are some practical matters to consider as well. If you look at British and Canadian publications, such as The BBC, The Guardian, The Economist, and The Globe and Mail, you get a picture not colored by partisan electoral considerations. You sometimes wonder if they are reporting the same war as the U.S. media. The situation in Iraq has deteriorated very badly. Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the war, mostly women and children. Well over 1000 American soldiers--many of them just kids who signed up for the National Guard and never expected to go to war--have been killed there and thousands more have been maimed for life. Americans are being killed daily in increasing numbers and unless there is a radical change, this will go on for years. Reenlistment rates are way down and manpower needs are way up. With a President Kerry, there is hope that other countries might contribute serious numbers of troops to help stabilize Iraq. With a second Bush administration they will just say: "You broke it, you fix it."

If other countries won't help out, Bush is going to be faced with an unpleasant choice: accept another Vietnam-type quagmire lasting for years or reinstitute the draft. There is no way we can win in Iraq with current troop levels. Something has to change. More of the same won't work. And it is an open secret that after the election, Bush is going to ask Congress for another $70 billion down payment on Iraq. Who is going to pay for it? We are.

In addition, the U.S. needs the help of other countries to gather intelligence about terrorists, cut off their funding, and track them down. Trouble is, when the playground bully comes asking for help, everyone just walks away. A new president who shows respect for the world instead of arrogance will get a lot more help. And we need help, believe me.

So Why a Website?

The original goal was to help register overseas voters. The banner ads I ran until October were linked to several different voter registration websites. They were my idea and ran free of charge. Thousands upon thousands of new overseas voters registered, most of whom are confronted daily by what people in other countries think of the U.S. A second goal was to present the polling data honestly and without spin. The media seem obsessed with the national polls, but it is the electoral college that matters. The cartoons are largely anti-Bush, but the data are honest. If you want to see an example of a site with a highly partisan main page, go to electionprojection.com. But despite the pro-Bush slant, I believe his numbers are also honest. In fact, there have been times when I showed Bush slightly ahead and he showed Kerry slightly ahead. He is currently getting about 100,000 visitors a day; I am currently getting about 650,000 visitors a day. I hope the Bush:Kerry vote is in the same proportion.

Who is Behind This Website?

Me. Just me. To make it crystal clear, this Website is my personal project. I paid for it myself and did all the work myself except as noted in the Acknowledgements section on the Welcome page. It is hosted at HostRocket.com, a commercial Web hosting company in upstate New York, and I paid their standard commercial rate. The Democratic Party and Democrats Abroad didn't even know about me. In fact, unless they happen to see this page, they probably still don't know. No 527 or other group had anything to do with it at all.

The opinions expressed here are my own. This site is now one of the top 1000 Websites in the world, thanks to you, my loyal visitors. Consequently, many people want to run ads on the site. I could have made thousands of dollars. But I didn't want to be beholden to anyone, so I decided not to have any ads after overseas voter registration closed. All in all, the site has cost me about $3000. I have no regrets.

The donations were spent on advertising the site on about 90 blogs and the websites of about 30 college newspapers in 14 swinging states as listed on the Donations page. Thank you so much for helping spread the word.

What Next?

Win or lose, I am not likely to move back to the U.S. in the coming year. Nor will I become a professional blogger. After the election postmortems are finished later this week, I will keep the Website alive until 2008 so political scientists can analyze the data, but my own focus will go back to my research, currently on making computers more secure. I think there is plenty of work to do there.

Many people have told me that if [insert name of candidate] wins or there is a draft, they are going to leave the country. If you really mean it and are interested in getting a Masters degree in Computer Systems, you might consider a Masters program I am running. It focuses on operating systems, networks, distributed computing, parallel computing, grids, multiagent systems and other systems areas. Knowledgeable observers consider my group to be one of the top three systems groups in Europe. The program is entirely in English and we have students from all over the world. It is also relatively cheap as Masters programs go. Tuition is about $1800 per year for residents of the European Union and about $6000 per year for everyone else. Why is it so cheap? Because taxes are high here (the top rate is 52%) and education is subsidized by the government. Republicans and Democrats are equally welcome, provided they are smart and work hard. Admission is competitive.
For information about the masters, click here.

Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank all my loyal readers for sticking with me. I have received thousands and thousands of e-mails, most of which I have already read and the rest of which I will read after the election. The best ones were the large number from Republicans saying: "We're going to vote for different candidates, but I appreciate your candor and honesty." Thank you.

I am Andrew Tanenbaum and I approved this message.


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