Qualifying to Vote

Voting is an important right of American citizenship. Without it, citizcns would not be able to choosc the people who will run their government. Voting is also a major responsibility. 'ITiosc who do not voce are failing to carry out a chic responsibility. They are also handing over their share of political power to voters whose views they may oppose. President Franklin D. Roosevelt reminded Americans of the importance of voting when he said, "I.et us never forget that government is ourselves. The ultimate rulers of our democracy . ,. are the voters of this country.*

During our nation's early years, most voters were white, adult ma les v and property owners. The many people often barred from voting included white adult males who could not afford to buy property* women, African American males, Native American males, and people under 21 years of age. Today, however, property ownership is no longer a consideration, and the U.S. Constitution states that no state may deny the right to vote because of race, color, gender, or age—if the person is at least 18 years old. People who have been convicted of serious crimes arc the most common exception to the general rules. Most states deny them the right to vote until they have served their prison sentences.

Americans in Action

On the first Tuesday after the first Monday of every November, Mary Gettinger has a regular job. It lasts all day. Mary describes herself as "tired but satisfied" at the end of the day. Ever since she retired from her teaching iob 17 years ago, Mary has worked as a poll worker. She puts In a long day at the elementary school in her community, where two precincts' worth of people vote on local, state, and national Issues and candidates. Mary views her work as a poll worker as an important public service. "After voting myself," she says, "working the polls is the most important thing I do, because it helps other people vote."

Pointing the way to the polling place

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To be eligible to vote, you must be at least 18, a resident of the state for a specified period of time, and a citizen of the United States, In most states, you must also be registered to vote.

voter Registration

People who meet the qualifications must register to vote before they can take part in an election. Most states require registration at least 25 days before an election. In a few-states, however, the deadline is much later— 10 or even fewer days before the election.

Registration requirements vary. Registration applications may be obtained from county offices. Some states make the process easier, permitting registration by mail or offering more convenient times and places for in-pcrson registration such as allowing registration at public libraries or high schools, A federal law that took effect in 1995, the National Voter Registration Act, widely known as the Motor Voter Act, requires the states to allow people to register when they renew their drivers' licenses. Citizens may also mail in registrations or register at numerous state offices, welfare offices, and agencies that serve the disabled.

Registering to vote involves filling out some forms. These forms ask for your name, address, age, and often your party preference. You may register as a Democrat, a Republican, unaffiliated, or a member of some other party. If you register as a Democrat or Republican, you will be able to vote in primary elections where you can choose your party's candidates for the general election.

When you register for the first time, you must show proof of citizenship, address, and age by showing a driver's license or birth certificate. Once you have registered, you are assigned to an election district. On Election Day, election officials will use a list of voters registered in the district to verify-

that the people who vote are eligible and to prevent people from voting more than once.

j^BBEIBi Identifying What requirements must you meet to qualify to vote?

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