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A voter is a citizen who has the legal right to help make decisions for the nation.


5 - 8


Civics, Social Studies, U.S. History


California Voter

Voters are the most important piece to a functioning democracy. Although voting is extremely important in many countries, places such as the United States have a low voter turnout in comparison to the population for many of their elections.

Photograph by Irfan Khan

A voter is a member of a group who has the right to help make decisions for a group. A person votes by declaring a choice.

When the number of people voting is small, it is possible to find out the group’s preference by a show of hands, or by a voice vote—asking people to say “Yes” or “No.” But when thousands or millions of people all vote on the same issue, it is more difficult to count the votes, so a written or electronic ballot is used to record the vote.

National, state, and local elections in the United States all use secret ballots. No one, including the people who count the votes, know what any one person’s vote was. This helps people to make a free choice and not be pressured to vote a certain way.

There are times when votes are taken openly. When elected representatives vote, whether in Congress or in a city council meeting, they vote openly and each person’s vote is recorded under their name. That way, the voters can determine whether they are satisfied with their elected representatives’ choices.

In most states, it is necessary to register to vote. A citizen 18 years or older registers by giving some personal information to a government office, usually the county board of elections. Typically, the voter is assigned a polling place where they can go to cast their ballot on Election Day. Some states also allow early voting at the board of elections office or by mail. In Oregon, all ballots are now cast by mail.

Today in the United States, almost every citizen 18 years or older is eligible to vote. (The exception being some convicted felons.) However, it did not start out that way. When the United States formed, only white men over the age of 21 were eligible to vote. After the Civil War, a constitutional amendment allowed African American men to vote, but many states enacted “Jim Crow” laws that made voting practically impossible for them. In 1919, the Constitution was amended again to extend the right to vote to women over 21. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 created legal penalties for states that prevented eligible voters from voting, making it much easier for African Americans and other nonwhite voters to exercise their rights. Finally, in 1971, the voting age for all citizens was lowered from 21 to 18 by the 26th Amendment.

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Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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