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Voting Basics – How Democracy Works

Voting is considered a fundamental right in the United States, but how does it work?

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Voting is a right – and according to many, a duty for Americans to exercise when given the opportunity. In reality, voting should not be taken for granted just for being a right for every citizen in the country. Voting requires important steps be followed, and may even have restrictions depending on state laws.

Voting rights are established by the Constitution, noting that suffrage, the right to vote, cannot be denied on the grounds of race or color, sex, or age for any American citizens eighteen or older. Past that, state laws determine how voters make themselves eligible for elections in their state, county, and city. Throughout the country, many states have taken away voting rights from convicted felons, even permanently in many cases.

In general, most states require voter registration to be eligible to receive and submit a ballot. Currently, only North Dakota does not require any registration to vote. States also vary by their deadlines to register to vote. Some states allow voters to register on Election Day, while others have strict deadlines up to a month before Election Day to complete registration. If a potential voter attempts to enter a polling location and vote in states requiring pre-registration, they will be denied without any chance of appeal.

Valid forms of identification are often required by states to vote in-person on Election Day. Typically, this requires photo IDs like driver’s licenses, identification cards, or passports. If a potential voter does not have a valid photo ID in these states and tries to vote, they will either be denied or forced to show valid photo IDs within the next few weeks for their ballot to be counted. Other states may not require photo ID at all, accepting any potential voters with valid voter registration. While the rules vary by state, the rule of thumb for most voters in general elections is to make sure they’re registered a month before Election Day and preferably have some form of photo identification if they’re unsure of their state’s voter laws.

Absentee ballots for voting by mail are meant to be used only by voters unable or unwilling to vote in person on Election Day. Military personnel, foreign residents, students, and vacationers were typically considered eligible to receive absentee ballots. These ballots are mailed to eligible voters, who then fill them out and send them back to the county’s election office with the provided envelope. The COVID-19 pandemic has given many state’s reasons to ease up on restrictions for mail-in voting. Throughout the country, states have been sending mail-in ballots to all eligible voters as part of a system called universal mail-in voting. Some voters believe all who apply should be allowed to mail in their ballots, but critics argue that mail-in voting is more prone to fraud or the loss of eligible votes.

Ultimately, voting has a specific set of guidelines that need to be followed. Although a right granted to Americans through the Constitution, votes are only counted when the voter follows these guidelines.

Jose Backer, General Assignment Reporter, is a graduate of St. Michael's College and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Political Science. Born and raised in Southern California, he currently resides in the Pasadena area.

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