If You Want to Be a Voter / Ballad of Sarasota (Lori Rosolowsky)

Originally published by Coalition for Voting Integrity at http://mysite.verizon.net/resq4lzq/cvi/id292.html

"If You Want to Be a Voter (The Ballad of Sarasota)"

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Please state authorship as "Words and music by Lori Rosolowsky, copyright 2007."

Throughout history, music has been used to chronicle events as well as influence and motivate people to action, often transcending time and place. For example, the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" was sung by the Chinese during the Tiananmen Square uprising for democracy in 1989. Coalition for Voting Integrity co-founder Mary Ann Gould recognized the potential that music could have in the voting integrity movement and asked me to write a song, specifically about the Sarasota 2006 congressional election. Mary Ann and I had many extensive discussions about the lyrics and she convinced me that the song could be more than a symbolic statement about voting integrity and democracy--that it could be used as a tool to educate citizens and lawmakers about exactly what we are demanding: the ability to see our vote, to have proof it was counted, and that DRE machines be banned. Her vision, inspiration, and direction were critical to the end result.

Verse 1

Woody Guthrie said this land was made for you and me
He walked where soldiers paved the way for our democracy
Like Trenton, Saratoga, New Orleans, the Alamo
Well, there's another battleground, a place you ought to know


If you want to be a voter, don't count on Sarasota
Because in Sarasota your vote doesn't have to count
Eighteen thousand votes are missing, and the media ain't listening
Electronic voting's in, democracy is out

Verse 2

I walked up to the courthouse and heard the people say
Something rotten happened here on Election Day
The judge said, "Sorry, people, you can't look at what's inside
These machines are corporate secrets, this ain't the time for civic pride

2nd Chorus

If you want to be a voter, don't count on Sarasota
Because the judge here told us, "Your vote doesn't have to count"
Eighteen thousand votes are missing, is anybody listening?
Electronic voting's in, democracy is out

Verse 3

Then I saw a crowd of people by the county jail
Hundreds held up signs that said, "Democracy for sale"
So I telephoned my sister who is serving in Iraq
She said, "Keep up the fight in Florida and take our country back!"


Where does it say
That machines should have the right to take our vote away?

3rd Chorus

Listen to the voters who fight for Sarasota
We have the right to see our vote, have proof it really counts
Raise your voices and demand
That DRE machines be banned
Everywhere, across this land, democracy—that's what it's all about


Woody Guthrie said this land was made for you and me

Words & music by Lori Rosolowsky © 2007 All rights reserved

The Story Behind the Song

When I tell people I've written a song about the voting fiasco in Sarasota, Florida, they think I am referring to the 2000 election. But in November 2006, Florida was the site of another controversial election. In the 13th Congressional District race, 18,000 votes were lost! That represents 15% of the votes cast for that particular race that were not counted, and for which no independent means (like a paper ballot) exists to retrieve the votes. Media coverage of this election has been poor--groups like CVI have kept this issue, and its aftermath, alive. This song is one way to communicate to the country and our representatives that what happened in Sarasota is unacceptable.

The song opens with a reference to Woody Guthrie and "This Land Is Your Land." Most people are surprised to learn that several verses into his song, Guthrie sings, "As I went walking, I saw a sign there/On the sign it said, 'No Trespassing'/But on the other side it didn't say nothing/That side was made for you & me!" He then sings of people standing in relief lines and he asks, "Is this land made for you and me?"

That's also what we ask through this song. Guthrie criss-crossed this land, becoming a social activist along the way. He communicated through his songs. We continue the tradition.

The first verse names Trenton, Saratoga (not Sarasota), New Orleans and the Alamo--all sites of key battles in our country's history--battles that literally shaped the configuration of our country.

Trenton was the site of George Washington's pivotal victory against the British on Christmas 1776, giving the American troops the psychological boost they needed to win the Revolutionary War and gain independence from Britain. The Battle of Saratoga in 1777 represented another decisive victory for American troops. In 1815, the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans forced the British to recognize United States' claims to Louisiana and West Florida and marked Louisiana's political incorporation into the Union. (In this post-Katrina world, New Orleans also conjures up the question: "Is this land made for you and me?") Finally, we "remember the Alamo" as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds, which freed Texas from Mexico.

Now we have a new type of battleground: Sarasota. Not bloody like its predecessors, but rather an insidious violation of our democracy, for which those battles were fought. In December 2006, a judge ruled that the code programmed into the DRE (Direct Record Electronic) machines used in Sarasota was proprietary, and thus the people did not have a right to examine it. (There are ways to audit and examine code without revealing trade secrets, of course.) This is the situation described in the second verse of the song.

The third verse goes on to describe the activism of people across Florida, who have held a rally demanding a re-vote, and highlights the irony that we are purportedly fighting for democracy in Iraq, when it is slipping through the cracks here at home. The image of activists at a county jail is meant to symbolize our imprisoned rights. While groups like SAFE (Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections) in Florida have been smart and active, even proactive--they succeeded in getting a referendum passed in November to prevent the very disaster from happening again in the future--the rest of the country is largely ignorant of events.

The song then rhetorically asks: Where does it say that machines should have the right to take our vote away? DRE machines have not only lost votes (as in Sarasota), but changed them...either way, the voters' intent, and therefore, their rights, are violated.

The song ends with the rallying cry that DRE machines--the machines used in Sarasota and around the country--be banned. The optical scan machines, which electronically count paper ballots, give voters the ability to see and have proof that their votes have been counted accurately and securely.

Thank you for listening to the song. Please forward it to friends, neighbors and, especially, lawmakers! Let them HEAR you!

–Lori Rosolowsky

To make a donation toward the recording costs for "If You Want to Be a Voter (The Ballad of Sarasota)," make checks payable to Coalition for Voting Integrity, memo "If You Want to Be a Voter"; mail to Coalition for Voting Integrity, P.O. Box 536, Doylestown, PA 18901. Or contribute online Even if you don't have a PayPal account, PayPal will process your VISA or MasterCard payment with just a few clicks.