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What Does It Mean To Be A Citizen In A Democracy?
PART ONE: Voting

Your Vote Matters
Your vote is your way of being represented in government. That means that when you vote you are making your needs and values known to the leaders of your country, state, and city. Your vote is your voice. If you do not use your vote, no one will hear you.

Being able to vote means having the right to choose. You are choosing who will make decisions that will affect your life. But when you do not vote, you are still making a choice. You are choosing to not take part in democracy. You are choosing to give up your most important right and responsibility as a citizen. You are choosing to be silent while other people make decisions for you.

Don't give up your right to choose. Vote!

In an election, every vote counts. Your vote matters. If you do not think that your vote makes a difference, take a look at some events in history that were decided by just a few votes.

Some events in history that were decided by just a few votes.

  • In 1776, the American colonists had come from many different countries and were deciding what the new country's official language would be. Just one vote decided that Americans would speak English rather than German.
  • In 1850, the young U.S. government was deciding whether or not it wanted to grow to the West. Just one vote made California a part of the United States.
  • In 1868 Congress was deciding whether it should remove President Andrew Johnson from office. Just one vote kept President Johnson from being removed.
  • In 1960 there was a very close presidential election. Just three votes per precinct made John F. Kennedy president instead of Richard Nixon.
    Source: How to Vote! California Edition, Key to Community Voter Involvement Project.*
  • Making an Informed Vote
    Making an informed vote means that you make a decision based on facts and information. You need to be informed to make sure you are choosing the person to best represent you and what you believe. You also need to know the facts to make decisions about issues that you will vote on.

    To be an informed voter, you need to collect and sort through information. The following steps are adapted from a guide called How to Pick Your Candidate by Debbie Tasker. These steps will help you get and use information in order to make an informed vote.

    1. Decide what things matter most to you. Pick out the things you care about. These things might include: health care, welfare, minimum wage, crime, social security, defense, schools, immigration, the environment, taxes, foreign aid, and so on.

    2. Find out what the candidates think about the things that matter to you. You probably have seen ads about candidates on TV. Sometimes these ads will talk about how a candidate would solve a problem or what he or she believes in. Mostly though, the ads are made to make the candidate look good. They are made by people who are good at selling things that we buy. Sometimes these ads focus on what is wrong with the person who the candidate is running against rather than saying what the candidate believes in. Candidates may use buzz words. These are words that sound good and that people like to hear. They may not mean much, though. Candidates may say they are for "law and order". That sounds good but what does it mean? Does the candidate want more police? Does she/he want more jails? How much money will it cost? Where will the money come from?

    Know more before you pick your candidate. You need to know what the candidate thinks about things that are important to you. Do you agree with his or her ideas? How did the candidate vote in the past? What does the candidate want to do if he or she wins the election? To get this information, you can go to a number of different sources such as:

  • news reports on the TV, radio, and in newspapers and magazines,
  • debates between candidates on TV,
  • local meetings where candidates explain their views,
  • The League of Women Voters in your area,
  • Project: Vote Smart's Voter's Research Hotline: 1-800-622-7627.
  • 3. Pick the candidate that most agrees with your ideas and values. You want to vote for the best candidate for you. That could be a person of any race or religion. It does not matter what the candidate looks like or what her/his name is. What matters is the candidate's ideas.

    4. Be sure you think the candidate can do the job. Ask yourself questions like: What does the candidate promise to do? Does she/he promise everything to everybody? Does she/he promise too many things? Can the candidate really do what she/he says?

    5. Plan to vote and do it.

    Questions? If you are not sure about what to do in order to vote, you are not alone. A lot of people have questions about voting rules. In the following pages, some questions about voting will be answered. If you have more questions, call the Elections Department at the Ohio Secretary of State's Office: (614) 466-2585. Also, you can ask the workers at the polls whose job it is to help you with any questions you have about voting.
    Who can vote? You can vote if you are:

  • an American citizen
  • at least 18 years old by the day of the general election. (Election day is November 3, 1998.)
  • a resident of Ohio for at least 30 days before the day of the general election or primary.
  • not in prison.
  • registered to vote at least 30 days before the day of the election. (October 5, 1998.)
  • How can I register to vote? Fill out a voter registration card. You can get a card from several places:
  • Libraries
  • High Schools
  • Bureau of Motor Vehicles
  • County Treasurer's Office
  • Boards of Elections
  • Secretary of State's Office
  • Voter Registration Hotline: 1-800-753-VOTE (8683)
  • Mail or hand in the card. The card must be received by the county Board of Elections or be postmarked 30 days before the election in which you want to vote. Election day is November 3, 1998. You must be registered to vote by October 5, 1998. What happens after I send in my registration card? Your county Board of Elections will send you a postcard 2-4 weeks after they get your registration card. On this postcard, you will find out where you are to go to vote. Do I ever have to change my registration? Yes, sometimes you do. You have to update your registration if you:
  • move or
  • change your name
  • What if I am not going to be in town when there is an election? You can still vote but you need to get an absentee ballot How do I get an absentee ballot? You get it from the Board of Elections in your county. Write or call them. You need to get an absentee ballot by noon Saturday before the election. You could also go to the Board of Elections and vote on the Saturday or the day before election day. The Board of Elections needs to get your ballot back by 7:30 p.m. on election day. What if I am sick or physically not able to get out and vote? Again, you can use an absentee ballot. Where do I go to vote? Voting places, or polls, are in libraries, schools, places of worship, and other places in the community. You will need to vote in the place set up for people that live in your neighborhood. If you do not know where you should vote, call your county Board of Elections. What are political parties? A political party is a group of people who share the same goals and try to win elections. Currently, the two biggest political parties in Ohio are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. There are other smaller parties such as the Natural Law Party and the Reform Party. Do I have to tell people what party I support? No, you do not have to tell people what party you support in order to vote in the Fall general election. But you need to if you are voting for people running in a primary election (See page 8). In a primary election you can only vote for people who are trying to be that party's candidate in the general election. You have to fill out a form when you do so. If in the next primary election you want to vote for people in another party, you need to fill out another form. Remember:
  • Party only matters in the primary election if you are voting for candidates rather than issues only.
  • In the Fall general election, you can vote for whoever you
  • Next: Communicating with Elected Officials

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