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Find out how you can request an absentee ballot to vote if you are not available on election day.

5 Things You Should Know about the Elections

Voting is a right and a civic responsibility. And like millions of U.S. citizens, you will have the chance to exercise your right to vote during the Presidential Election of 2012.

Your vote on November 6, 2012 will help elect the next President of the United States, as well as other representatives at local, state and federal levels, including mayors, governors, congressional representatives and senators.

Below you will find five important facts about voting in the United States, including resources to help you register to vote and information on how to vote.

1) Voting Is Voluntary

Voting is the essence of democracy. Unlike other countries, voting in the United States is voluntary. Some people vote in person at the polls, while others vote by mail days or weeks before the actual election date. Regardless of how you do it, it’s important that all U.S. citizens who qualify participate in the democratic process of electing public officials.

2) States Establish Voting Rules

To vote in federal elections you need to be a U.S. citizen and be at least 18 years old, although some states allow 17-year-olds to vote. In fact, the states establish voting rules, including the requirements to register to vote, registration deadlines, and where to send your voting form. You may be able to register at a variety of places, including state and local voter registration offices, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and public assistance agencies. You might also be able to register by mail using the National Mail Voter Registration Form, but not all states accept it. Check with your state election office to learn how to register in your state.

3) Voter ID Laws Vary by State

Voter identification requirements also vary by state. Therefore, it’s important to figure out the documents you might need to show before going to your polling place on November 6, 2012. Some states require voters to show proof of identity before voting, such as driver’s licenses, passports or military papers. Your state election office can tell you what documents are required in your state.

4) You Can Vote If You’re Living Abroad

Federal law allows U.S. citizens to vote if they are living abroad. This includes members of the Armed Forces, federal employees, and other U.S. citizens who reside outside the United States. U.S citizens living abroad can request an absentee ballot by using the Federal Post Card Application (PDF). For more information about voting from abroad, visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

5) There Are Several Ways to Participate in the Elections

Voting is not the only way to participate in the electoral process. If you would like to get more involved you can always volunteer at a polling place. Some states have specific requirements such as being a registered voter or meeting certain age requirements. You might have to be affiliated with a political party and reside in the state where you plan to volunteer. Check with your state election office to find out more.

Image description: Mrs. John Rogers Jr. campaigns for the right to vote sometime between 1910 and 1915. This photo was taken by the Bain News Service.
View other Bain News Service photos showing life in the 1910s.
Photo from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Image description: Mrs. John Rogers Jr. campaigns for the right to vote sometime between 1910 and 1915. This photo was taken by the Bain News Service.

View other Bain News Service photos showing life in the 1910s.

Photo from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

There’s still time to register to vote before the November elections. Find state registration deadlines, eligibility and more.

Image description: These small silver “Jailed for Freedom” pins in the shape of prison doors with heart-shaped locks were presented to suffragettes in celebration of their release from prison at a meeting in December 1917.
The women, members of the National Woman’s Party, had been arrested outside the White House for protesting against the government’s failure to pass a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. They are considered to have been the first people to ever picket the White House.
In June 1917, the D.C. police began arresting picketers for obstructing sidewalk traffic. Over 150 women were sentenced to terms ranging from 60 days to 6 months in the Occoquan Workhouse. When their demands to be treated as political prisoners were ignored, they went on hunger strikes and were forcibly fed. The publicity surrounding their ordeal generated public sympathy for the suffragists and their cause. Learn more about the National Woman’s Party.
Image courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

Image description: These small silver “Jailed for Freedom” pins in the shape of prison doors with heart-shaped locks were presented to suffragettes in celebration of their release from prison at a meeting in December 1917.

The women, members of the National Woman’s Party, had been arrested outside the White House for protesting against the government’s failure to pass a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. They are considered to have been the first people to ever picket the White House.

In June 1917, the D.C. police began arresting picketers for obstructing sidewalk traffic. Over 150 women were sentenced to terms ranging from 60 days to 6 months in the Occoquan Workhouse. When their demands to be treated as political prisoners were ignored, they went on hunger strikes and were forcibly fed. The publicity surrounding their ordeal generated public sympathy for the suffragists and their cause. Learn more about the National Woman’s Party.

Image courtesy of the National Museum of American History.