Politics For Dummies
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Many of us — more than 255 million citizens in this country — are eligible to vote but only about 140 million voted in the 2016 national election. Every citizen of the United States who is at least 18 years of age may register and vote.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia permit some form of same day registration. In all other states, you must register before Election Day in order to vote. Registration in those states stops in advance of an election — usually thirty days in advance!

You must be registered to vote for any elective office in the United States, from president to township advisory board. You only have to register once, though, as long as you live at the same address and vote periodically.

Upsides and downsides of registering to vote

Maybe you’re not registered because you’ve convinced yourself that you should avoid politics, which is impossible. Political decisions will be made for you even if you elect not to participate. You still have to pay taxes even if you don’t vote. Elected officials make decisions about which streets get paved, which sidewalks get repaired, and which schools close without regard to your opinions, if you don’t vote. There’s no hole deep enough for you to bury your head in to avoid politics completely. You can’t run, and you can’t hide — so you may as well participate.

Make a difference

If you do participate, you can make the system better. It may never be perfect, but improvement is possible. With the knowledge you gain by reading this book, you can make your elected officials respond to you. Your voice will be loud enough to be heard by everyone.

Voting is a valuable right that you, as an American, have. Many Americans take that right for granted . . . even the politicians. In the 2010 elections, a wave of voter reaction — a “throw 'em all out” attitude after years of inaction and deadlock by Congress — shook up both major political parties, changed the dominant party in Congress, and made the politicians brutally aware of the issues about which voters had been concerned for years, and which the politicians had bypassed.

That reaction reminded every politician not to take the voters for granted. The politicians heard the discontentment among voters, and they had to respond.

Become important

Voting isn’t required in the United States, as it is in some other countries. The former Soviet Union used to brag about its 98 percent voter turnout on Election Day — but citizens faced stiff fines and punishment if they failed to turn out to support the government’s approved candidate. By contrast, this country gives us so many compelling reasons to vote, it’s a wonder the voting turnout here doesn’t come close to approaching that of the countries that demand it.

When you vote and participate, elected officials have to consider what you think. They may not always do what you want, but they have to listen to your opinions. When you vote, you become someone important.

Cynics are probably saying, “Yeah, but not as important as PACs (political action committees) and special interest groups with money.” Keep in mind, though, that a district (be it a small town or the entire country) has only so many voters. Although money is in potentially limitless supply for a candidate (it can be raised from many sources), it’s illegal to buy votes, and you can’t give someone else your proxy to vote for you — so the only way money can make a difference is if it’s used to communicate a message that makes you want to support the candidate who’s spending it. Your vote has the same weight as the vote of every other citizen. Rich or poor, young or old, male or female, Black or White, each vote is equally important.

Wield your political power

Each one of us has the same number of votes. You may not have an equal share of the world’s financial resources, but the secret ballot gives us all an equal amount of voting power. Each registered voter has one and only one vote to cast — regardless of what you hear to the contrary about certain big-city or downstate rural districts, where the concept of “vote early and vote often” is allegedly in force, or where that age-old question “Is there voting after death? — is supposedly answered in the affirmative.

The vote of a person who has contributed $1 million to a candidate counts for no more than the vote of the person who has given nothing to a campaign. After all, winning elections is all about getting a majority of the votes cast. Votes are one-size-fits-all. Politicians need the votes of the “little people,” because this country has more “little people” than rich and powerful ones.

Since John F. Kennedy was elected, the percentage of eligible voters participating in presidential elections has declined in almost every election. That statistic is true in local elections as well.

When we all vote, we are a powerful force that can move mountains, or at least politicians. When we don’t, the small number of special interest voters have more clout because they are a bigger percentage of a smaller pie.

The following figure illustrates just how few people who are eligible to vote actually do. The outer circle represents the number of people in the United States who are eligible to vote. The next circle in the figure represents the number of people who registered to vote in the 2016 elections. The next circle represents the number of people who actually voted in the 2016 presidential election. (The number of people who actually voted is the 2016 voting population.) The smallest circle is the group of people who voted in the primaries. Think how different things might be if everybody who could vote actually voted.

voting outcomes What would election outcomes be if every eligible citizen voted?

After you register to vote, you can vote for the president, congressional representatives, and U.S. senators when your state has a contest. You can also vote in your state and local elections. Registering takes only a few minutes — less time than it would take to call your mother-in-law and wish her a good day, and it no longer costs a thing. It’s time well spent — after all, how often does someone enjoy calling their mother-in-law? You make the call because you want to stay on your mother-in-law’s good side. Register to vote because you want the government to stay on your good side.

Registering to vote doesn’t require you to vote in any election; it’s a prerequisite for voting in all elections. Register to vote now. You can always decide later not to vote. If you later decide to vote, and haven’t registered, it may be too late.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Ann M. DeLaney is currently a Standing Trustee in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy for the Southern District of Indiana. She was the first woman to serve as Chair of a major political party in Indiana and the first woman nominated by a major party as a candidate for Indiana Lieutenant Governor. She has been a delegate to state and national party conventions.

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