WHY VOTE!! BECAUSE YOUR VOTE MATTERS

Why should you vote?
Your vote counts! Learn why.
In some countries, citizens are fined if they don’t vote! Some Americans think that’s a good idea. Why? Because the right to vote is one of the basic rights guaranteed by our Constitution. It is one of our most precious rights.
OUR RIGHT, BUT NOT EVERYONE’S RIGHT

 

There are hundreds of nations in the world. Only a fraction of these nations are democracies or constitutional monarchies. (A democracy is a nation headed by leaders who are elected by the people. A constitutional monarchy is a nation that is headed by a queen or king, who may not have much real power, but which has free democratic elections for all citizens. The United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden, and the Netherlands are prime examples.) Only part of the world’s population enjoys the right to vote in free democratic elections. Nations such as India, Israel, the Czech Republic, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Australia, Canada, and the European Union countries are democracies, although Canada and Australia still have some political ties to England. Nations such as Turkey have some democratic freedoms and some non-democratic restrictions. Many nations are monarchies, in which one family controls the government; military dictatorships, in which a non-elected leader and his army control the government by force; or, in the case of China, Communist states, in which only one political party is allowed to have power and representation.In all of these non-democratic nations, the government controls the press, and there is very little opportunity, or none, for free speech. Citizens are not allowed to publicly express any criticism of their government. The most basic rights that U.S. citizens take for granted, such as a speedy and fair trial by jury, and freedom of religion, are not recognized in these non-democratic nations. If they have elections at all, they are usually a sham. Only a few candidates are listed on the ballots, and those are for local office. The people do not get to choose their leaders.

The United States is not the only democracy in the world, but it has been one of the most successful. One reason for its success is its system of laws based on the Constitution. Our Constitution allows for the possibility of change in the way we elect our leaders and representatives. But some basic rights are written into the Constitution, and as long as the United States thrives, these rights can never be taken away.

One of the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution is the right to vote. That may not seem like a big deal, but it is a very important right—only if YOU use it. Your vote is just as important as the President’s! If you don’t vote, you can’t participate fully in the democratic process. If you do vote, you are a participant. If you don’t, you can only be an onlooker.

MAKING CHANGES: THE FIRST STEPS

Throughout the history of our nation, changes have been made by those who organized, networked, joined forces, and expressed their opinions openly, whether or not they could vote. In many cases, public opposition was stubborn and violent. Suffragists (advocates for women’s right to vote) had to endure many injustices—when violent mobs smashed in and broke up their meetings, or getting arrested for demonstrating, for example. The Civil Rights Movement for African-Americans met seemingly unbeatable and vicious opposition. A number of civil-rights activists and leaders, black and white, were murdered. Yet the justice of their causes prevailed. They helped extend Constitutional rights and protection to those who had been denied those rights. These battles for justice were won by those who cared enough about the possibility of social change to get involved, to speak up, and even risk their lives.

You don’t have to risk your life to participate in making changes, though. Voting is one way that all U.S. citizens, ages 18 to 108, can speak up. If you have never voted before, but are interested in registering to vote in the next Presidential election, we say, “Congratulations! That’s great! Let’s do it!” Once you learn how to do it, you will have a sense of satisfaction, knowing that you are participating in an important part of being an American citizen. Registering to vote is the first step in an exciting adventure. This what we hope will happen:

* Because you want to be an educated voter, you will learn what you can about the candidates, the issues, and the differences between the parties’ stands on the issues that are most important to you. What do you care about? Legislative funding and support for schools for the deaf? How the candidates feel about mainstreaming? Literacy classes for deaf adults? Getting more Deaf candidates into office? Getting more sign-language interpreters at public events? More police departments learning how to communicate with Deaf people? What Deaf people can do for the environment? Do your representatives know how you feel about these issues?
* You will become more interested in following news about proposed Constitutional amendments,different interpretations of the Bill of Rights, and Supreme Court cases.
*You will follow, with new interest, the progress of the Presidential campaigns, and coverage of the national party conventions.
* You will vote in your state’s primary elections.
* You will contact your local, state, and Congressional representatives and express your views to them.
* You may even want to volunteer to join the local campaign committee for your favorite candidate. Even if you can’t use the voice telephone to make calls on the “telephone tree,” there is much that you can do. And if your candidate wins, you will participate in the victory celebration, knowing that you helped make it possible!
* You will see, through your own experience, that one person CAN make a difference. Even if your favorite candidate loses, you will have had this valuable experience, and we hope that you will want to stay involved.
* You will have the satisfaction of participating actively in the democratic process, and seeing how it works on a grassroots level. Someone who doesn’t bother checking the news, doesn’t care about the election, and doesn’t go to the polls to vote loses out on this.
* You can become a smarter, better-informed citizen. You can even help make history!
* And you may even decide to run for office yourself!

WHY BOTHER TO READ THE CONSTITUTION?

The Constitution contains the basic description of our national government, how it is to be elected and set up, and a list of our guaranteed rights as citizens. We believe that all citizens of the United States should study their Constitution. Together with the Declaration of Independence, it is the single most important political document in our history. Everyone should read it, understand what it says, and have a basic knowledge of their rights and responsibilities as citizens.

The Constitution provides a framework for our government, making provisions for the offices of the president, vice-president, Congress, and Supreme Court. These are the three main branches of our government: Executive (the presidency and vice-presidency), Legislative (House of Representatives and the Senate, together known as Congress), and Judiciary (the Supreme Court). The original Constitution was written in 1787 and ratified in 1789, over 200 years ago. Since that time, 27 amendments have been passed by Congress, to change specific parts of the original law that needed to be clarified, streamlined, or eliminated; to fix flaws in the original provisions; or to add new laws to keep the Constitution up-to-date with major changes in U.S. society, primarily the extension of voting rights.

One of the beautiful things about the Constitution is its brevity. Some other nations have constitutions that run hundreds of pages long, with law after law and article after article described in extraordinary detail. In contrast, our Constitution spells out some basic procedures, laws, and rights, in fairly simple language, and leaves the rest to the individual States to legislate. It leaves open the possibility for change.

When the Constitution was ratified in 1789, there were only 13 states. The Framers (writers) of the Constitution were all wealthy white men and land-owners. Several Framers were Southern slave-owners. It was simply taken for granted that only free white men could vote. The rights that they enjoyed for themselves were gradually extended to all U.S. citizens, regardless of color, race, ethnic or socio-economic background, or gender, through the amendments (additional laws).

The original Constitution, as ratified in 1789, lacked a Bill of Rights—a list of basic rights guaranteed to all U.S. citizens and recognized by the government, such as freedom of religion, speech, and press, the rights to a speedy trial, and to hold peaceful public protests or rallies. Other rights, such as protection from being forced to house and feed soldiers, are a reminder of the injustices that provoked the War of Independence. After some political dispute, a Bill of Rights was finally written and passed, being ratified in 1791. The first ten amendments of the Constitution are commonly called the “Bill of Rights.”

WHAT OUR CONSTITUTION SAYS
ABOUT VOTING AND VOTERS

The Constitution of the United States has several amendments focusing on the voting rights of citizens, and Presidential elections. Here are the amendments, in their original wording. To view our commentaries on each one, click the “Commentary” link. Each commentary will appear in a pop-up window.

Amendment XII
Choosing the President & Vice- President
(Ratified 6/15/1804)

Commentary (an explanation in simple English)

The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;

The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;

The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.

Amendment XIV
Citizenship rights (the first two articles)
(Ratified 7/9/1868)

Commentary (an explanation in simple English)

1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Amendment XV
Race no bar to vote
(Ratified 2/3/1870)
Commentary (an explanation in simple English)

1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Amendment XIX
Women’s suffrage
(Ratified 8/18/1920)
Commentary (an explanation in simple English)

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Amendment XXIV
Poll tax barred
(Ratified 1/23/1964)
Commentary (an explanation in simple English)

1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Amendment XXVI
Voting age set to 18 years
(Ratified 7/1/1971)
Commentary (an explanation in simple English)

1. The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

FOR MORE INFORMATION . . .
For the complete text of the Constitution, see “The U.S. Constitution Online” (www.usconstitution.net), a useful site that includes full-color images of the original Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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