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A Voter Registration Mission In Baghdad


This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.


I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, how two stick figures and a five-letter word landed Seth Rogan's new film in hot water.

CHADWICK: First, we've been hearing a lot about undecided voters who may go uncertain into the booth. For Americans in Iraq, things are a little more complicated. Army Captain Nate Rawlings is a regular contributor to Day to Day from his post in southern Baghdad with the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division. Nate, welcome back to Day to Day. And before we get to the process of voting, I want to ask - the economy, you know, has really dominated the story of the politics here for the last month and even longer, not so much about Iraq. How did the troops feel about that?

Captain NATE RAWLINGS (1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, U.S. Army): We've been following the process of the economy pretty much in real time. We can go on to Yahoo! Finance and we can see what's happening. People here are just as concerned as everyone in the United States, seeing some of their savings that they've invested, their retirement accounts dwindle. But one of the nice things about being over here is that we know we're going to be here for a set period of time, and so we can just ride out the wave and hopefully it will be a little better by the time we come home.

CHADWICK: Well, for you, that period of time includes the election. What did you have to do to vote?

Capt. RAWLINGS: Well, my process - I wrote in and requested an absentee ballot from my home election board, and then they were able to send that to me here. And then I voted by absentee ballot and sent that in about three weeks ago.

CHADWICK: You file stories and you answer questions at npr.org from our listeners, and you've got one up today about a sergeant there with you who helps register people right there. I guess it's kind of hobby of his. He is interested in it. His name is Sergeant Asa Rubman. He's there with you?

Capt. RAWLINGS: Yes, he is with me. Sergeant Rubman has been our legal clerk for our battalion for a little over two years.

CHADWICK: Let me talk to Sergeant Rubman there, if I could.

Sergeant ASA RUBMAN (Paralegal, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, U.S. Army): Yes, sir.

CHADWICK: Hi, Sergeant Rubman. How did you get so interested in registering people to vote?

Sgt. RUBMAN: Well, honestly it started because I'd sent out for my absentee ballot, I think, back in May, and I guess I was just getting a little bit impatient that it hadn't showed up. I wasn't really sure about the timeframe when they're going to mail things out. So, I was reading on the Federal Voting Assistance page about how to do the write-in ballot. So, I figured, well, I'll do it for myself and for some other people.

CHADWICK: So, you figured out how to do all this online, and how many people have you helped register online there?

Sgt. RUBMAN: We weren't registering them. Everyone that came by, through us, over about 550 to 600 people, they are already registered to vote. What we (unintelligible) providing them the write-in ballots so they could actually vote for the president.

CHADWICK: You're not advocating one candidate or another? This is just simple kind of open civics? We're going to help you vote?

Sgt. RUBMAN: That's exactly right, and there was no partisan material at the table. We actually provided the information papers from the League of Women Voters, I think, was one of the websites. We also got one that just listed off, you know, this is the candidate. This is his vice-presidential candidate. This is the party. Because a lot of people weren't sure about spelling or the names. And we also had CNN running in the background almost 24 hours a day in the channel. So, we just gave them the opportunity to vote and said here's how you do it.

CHADWICK: And you've gotten almost 600 people to vote?

Sgt. RUBMAN: That's correct, sir.

CHADWICK: And these are...

Sgt. RUBMAN: And I really believe that those were 600 people that wouldn't have voted because of not having enough time or not remembering to do it. So, I think that's 600 more votes that are going to go towards the election.

CHADWICK: These are all soldiers or some civilian contractors you meet there, or who?

Sgt. RUBMAN: The majority were soldiers, soldiers and airmen. And then we had, you know, some civilians as well. And there is a 60 year-old man from Texas who had never voted, and this is the first time he ever had the time, that someone sat down with him and explained to him how to vote. There was a former Greek citizen who naturalized in the U.S., who is talking about he lived under, you know, tyranny and how he was just proud to be able to exercise rights given to him by a country. It was great across the board.

CHADWICK: All these people wanted to vote. Could I hear your pitch to maybe people who just sort of noticed you're there in the chow hall and say, hey, what are you doing?

Sgt. RUBMAN: Well, really the pitch was, hey, would you like to vote? And they're like, no, I'm already registered. And then, of course, I would come back by saying, well, no, I know you're already registered, but this is to actually cast your ballot. And most people would say, oh, I'm going to wait on my absentee ballot. So, I said, well, this is kind of a cover-your-so-to-speak for your votes. Because worst case, you just wasted ten minutes of your time. Best case, you just voted for president. And once they've heard that, they're like, yeah, I guess you're right.

CHADWICK: Sergeant Asa Rubman with the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division. He's in southern Baghdad. We also heard from our friend Captain Nate Rawlings there. Thanks to both of you. Sergeant, thank you and congratulations on all you've done there.

Capt. RAWLINGS: Thank you, sir.

CHADWICK: And you can read more about Sergeant Rubman and send Captain Rawlings a question about his life in Iraq. Go to npr.org/nate.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: We've got more in a moment on Day to Day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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