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Exercising Your Rights

Many people around the world would give their lives to be able to vote and help decide the leaders and laws in their country. During the Civil Rights era, people died, were injured, and arrested to have the right to vote. As a citizen, our voices need to be heard. Often it feels like it makes no difference, but together we can make a difference.


How to Register to Vote

You must be a citizen and 18 years old. The college library and public libraries have paper voter registration forms, as do the California DMV and many post offices. You can also register to vote using this webpage created by the California Secretary of State. Registering involves filling out a simple form and including your signature. You must register at least 15 days before an election in order to vote. When you move, you need to fill out a new form for the new location you have moved to.

a portion of a voter registration form

How to Vote

When an election is coming up soon, you will receive material in the mail from the state and from the county. On the back of the county pamphlet it will list your polling place (the place you will vote). You need to go there during the hours it is open. They will have you sign your name and match it to the signature on your original voter registration form. Bring your California ID card just in case there is any question of your identity. You will be given a ballot. If you have never voted before, ask for instructions on how to use the ballot and equipment. Your name will not be on your ballot because we have secret ballots in this country.

Remember, it is illegal to vote more than once in the same election, to have someone else vote for you, or to vote if you are not qualified.

If your schedule does not allow you to get to the polling place during their open hours, you can plan ahead and request an absentee ballot, also known as a vote by mail ballot (the form requesting this is on the back of your county pamphlet). This must be received by the date given. You will be sent a ballot in the mail and must return it before election day. Most polling places will also allow you to drop off a vote-by-mail ballot on election day. Additionally, you can request to become a permanent vote-by-mail voter when you register to vote, if you would rather vote by mail than go vote in person.

Deciding for Whom and for What to Vote

Ballots may include issues to vote on that may be state propositions or county or city measures. Ballots may also have elected officials for various offices on the ballot, from governor to local city council member.

It can often feel overwhelming to look at the ballot and decide how to vote. Here are some suggestions to guide you:

  • Plan a chunk of time, possibly one to three hours to focus on the ballot and candidates.
  • Sit down with a friend or two who thinks similary to you about political and social issues when you go through the ballot. This way you can all discuss it together.
  • Use available resources of information to help you:
    • The voter pamphlets sent by the county and state.
    • Newspaper editorials—the San Francisco ChronicleWest County Times,Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Bay Guardian all have editorials and voter information that is published in the weeks leading up to the election. Search for these newspaper editorials using databases from the CCC Library.
    • The Easy Voter Guide is published in partnership with the State Library of California. This guide is designed to explain the upcoming issues in simple language.
    • Voters Edge is a non-partisan, non-profit resource dedicated to providing easy-to-understand information to help voters decide how to vote. You can enter your address and find information about city, county, regional, and state measures, as well as detailed information about the races and candidates in your area.
  • As you read each ballot measure in the state or county pamphlets, be aware of who signed each. Sometimes the measures are hard to understand, but you can learn a lot by who is supporting the measures. If it is a member of a taxpayers association, it might be a more conservative viewpoint; if it is signed by a labor union official, it will be a more worker-oriented measure, etc.

Beware of commercials and ads in your mailbox! Commercials on television may say to vote no on something giving an emotional appeal. When you actually read about the issue, you may find the commercial was misleading and that you actually support the issue. Political ads in your mailbox can be just as misleading.

For example, you may get a postcard that seems to be from the political party of which you are a member. It makes it appear that the postcard has official endorsements from the political party. Some of these MAY be real, but some are not. If you read the tiny fine print (look all over the card) it may say that the endorsements were paid for by the candidates or ballot supporters. If this is the case, it is not an endorsement card but an ad designed to mislead you.

Chapter 10 — Page 9