After an election, many politicians talk about their “landslide victories” or new “mandates” based on the number of votes they received. Both historically and in modern day America these landslides and mandates only represent the ideas of the people who actually voted. Not every American registered to vote and the voices of the unregistered were not counted in landslides and mandates.
In 1993, Congress enacted the National Voter Registration Act which recognized that voting is a fundamental right of United States citizens and that the federal, state and local governments have a duty to promote the exercise of that right. The National Voter Registration Act was enacted to make it easier to register to vote and to help ensure that all eligible U.S. citizens have a voice in our democracy.
Who is Eligible to Vote in the United States?
Generally, you have to be a United States citizen and over the age of 18 by the date of the general election in order to vote. However, many states limit that right and do not allow convicted felons or people with severely diminished mental capacities to vote. It is illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of sex, race, religion, disability, national origin or sexual orientation with regard to voting rights. Similarly, you cannot be denied the right to vote if you do not speak English or you do not know how to read or write.
How Does a U.S. Citizen Register to Vote?
One place where you can register to vote is your local election office. Your local election office may be part of the county clerk’s office or its own board of elections office. In most cases you can find the phone number and address of the correct office in the phonebook, on the internet or by contacting your state board of elections office.
The National Voter Registration Act also requires states to provide eligible voters with the opportunity to register to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses. The Act further requires the states to provide eligible voters with the opportunity to register to vote at offices which provide public assistance or state funded programs for people with disabilities.
What Happens if You are Denied the Opportunity to Register to Vote?
If you are eligible to vote in the United States and you have been illegally denied the opportunity to register to vote then you may sue your state or local election board for denying you the right to vote. Further, you bring the matter to the attention of the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ may investigate the matter if your local or state board violated the National Voter Registration Act.
Your right to cast your ballot and help transform your town, state and national governments begins with your right to register to vote. Voter registration is an important legal process that is fundamental to our democracy and violations of that right are serious legal matters for which you may be entitled to bring a lawsuit to affect change.
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