“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” The Declaration of Independence, 1776
Elections are about consenting to be governed. We elect the people who will represent and lead our government. One of the key principles of democracy our founding fathers preserved goes like this, “You may not have your way, but you’ll always have your say.” This applies particularly to voting. As a citizen, your vote is your say as to how we are governed and who leads our federal, state, and local governments. But, before you can have your say about government, you must register to vote.
Registering to Vote
Now that you’re a US citizen you can vote in all elections held at the federal, state, county, and municipal levels. Registering to vote can be done in two ways. You can register:
Since you must actually sign your voter registration form, there is no way to register completely online.
- by mail, either by printing the forms online or by having them mailed to you, or
- in person at one of the many local government, public service or political party offices that handle voter registration.
Registering by Mail
There are few good websites that will help you register by mail. You can print the forms online if you have Adobe Acrobat reader, or you can also make a request by telephone or E-mail to have the forms mailed to you at no charge.
There are two kinds of forms that you can get online. The first is your local or state voter registration form (available online in most states). The second is the National Voter Mail Registration Form. Most states accept the National Voter Mail Registration Form which is easy to print out and send in.
If you have easy access to obtaining your local or state voter registration form online (without having to spend hours finding it), play it safe and use that form instead. If you can't find the local form online, you can usually find a site that has phone number to call or accepts email requests for sending your local voter registration forms.
For voter registration via the Internet we recommend using, in order of preference:
Please note that ILLINOIS, MASSACHUSETTS, NEVADA, NEW MEXICO, NORTH CAROLINA, OHIO, and RHODE ISLAND do not accept the National Voter Mail Registration Form for their local elections (although some of these states appear to be relaxing this restriction). If you reside in one of these states, you will have to either download their voter registration from the Internet, have them mail one to you, or pick up the forms in person.
- Project Vote Smart: Voter Registration Resources.
This site has access to both the local and state voter registration as well as the National Voter Mail Registration Form through Rock the Vote
- Rock the Vote: Register to Vote
Note: Rock the Vote uses the National Voter Mail Registration Form which is not accepted in all states.
- Federal Elections Commission: National Voter Mail Registration Form
Registering in Person
You can also register to vote in person at most public libraries, driver license offices, post offices, major political party offices, and many city and county offices. We suggest calling first before you go. If you live near one of these facilities, registering in person may be quicker and easier than by mail. You should bring your driver license or picture ID and you may want to bring proof of citizenship like your Certificate of Naturalization or US passport in case you get asked.
What You Need to Know Before You Register
When you register, you are going to have to decide whether to register with a party or not. Please take a moment to think about your options.
You should consider:
- Elections are a two step process. First each political party holds a primary election. The primaries are elections held by each party (usually Democratic and Republican) to decide which of their candidates will lead the party in the general election (whether it be at the state, county or federal level). In some states, only people registered with that party can vote in that party’s primary. In other states, a voter registered as an independent (no party specified on your voter registration form) can also vote in a party’s primary, but only in one party’s primary. Find out if your state allows you to register as an independent, yet vote in the primaries.
- Registering in a party will allow you to participate in that party’s caucuses and conventions. Registering as an independent will usually bar you from participating in any party’s caucuses or conventions. So if you plan on becoming politically active in one party in the near future, you may want to register in that party.
- Is the voting district where you live historically a Democratic or Republican stronghold? In these districts where a Republican or Democratic candidate always wins, the election is usually decided in the primaries. So what good is it to register, for instance, as a Democrat, vote in the Democratic primary, and then vote again in the general election if the Republican candidate always wins? If you register as a Republican or as an independent (if state law allows independents to vote in the primary), at least you can vote in the Republican primary. This allows you to participate in the selection of the candidate who will, more than likely, win the general election and represent you in government.
- Registering with a party does not mean you have to vote for the candidate from that party. You can vote for any candidate on the ballot in the general election regardless of your party registration.
- After considering all the above, if you do want to register with party, which party should it be? We suggest talking to friends or relatives knowledgeable in politics. There is a wealth of information on party politics on the Internet. We have some sites suggested below (see Political Parties). Talk to people, visit some of the websites, speak to some of the party staffers if you need to (they will certainly be willing talk to you), and then make up your own mind. Also keep in mind, after you register, you can always switch political parties in the future by simply re-registering to vote.
Before registering in a political party we suggest you check out these websites of the major and minor political parties registered in the United States. Happy surfing!
The Democratic Party The Republican Party Other Political Parties
The Libertarian Party The Reform Party Yahoo's site: in case we missed any
Become an Informed Voter
Voting is a right, not an obligation. We believe it is better not to vote at all, then to vote for a candidate only because he or she is well known, the incumbent, or did a lot of advertising. Furthermore, you don’t have to vote for every office or proposition presented to you on the ballot. If you are not familiar with the candidates and the issues, it is better to pass than to guess.
Citizens, when they do vote, do have a duty to their community and country to cast their vote responsibly. Responsible voters do their homework before voting so they are not misled or decieved about a politician's intentions once in office or the real impacts that a proposition may have on the community.
We are not saying you have to do exhaustive research on all the candidate and issues before each election. We believe that several days before the election spent reading newspapers, watching election-related TV programs, listening to candidates and political analysts on the radio, some focused surfing on the Internet, and carefully reviewing your voter’s guide book can make you an informed voter for the more important offices and propositions. It does take some work to become an informed voter.
Here are few nonpartisan websites (no party affiliation) that, we believe, can help you to become an informed voter.
Project Vote Smart Federal Elections Commission
Political Information (.com) - A search engine for politics & policy
Politics1 - American Politics, Elections, Candidates & Campaigns
FIRSTGOV: Voting and Elections
Political Activism (Leveraging or Multiplying Your Vote)
The way to get the biggest bang for your vote (or your say on how government is run) is by getting others to vote for the same candidates and issues you are voting for. Four, five, or four-hundred and forty-five votes make more of a difference than just one vote. If you really want to make a difference in our government, if you really have an issue or candidate you strongly believe in, if you really want to make a contribution as a citizen to shaping and changing the future of this country or your community, get more involved in the political process.
We consider political activism to be one of the highest levels of citizenship. Working the telephones, stuffing envelops, going door-to-door, and donating your time and money for a candidate or issue multiplies your vote and really makes it count. Furthermore, now that you’re a citizen, why not run for public office yourself? Holding public office is one of your new rights as a US citizen.
If you want to be more active in politics or start your own grassroots political movement, here are some websites, we believe, can help:
Federal Elections Commission: Citizens' Guide in pdf format
Volunteer Activity (volunteer work for federal candidates) in pdf format
Activism Training Materials & Resources
TOOLS FOR ACTIVISTS
The Democracy Center - THE DEMOCRACY OWNERS MANUAL
Finally, one of the unseen consequences of registering to vote is jury duty. As soon as you register to vote your name is placed on a mailing list for jury summons. So don’t be surprised if you find a summons in the mail six months to a year after you register. It’s an obligation you now have as a US citizen. Please see Jury Duty for additional information.