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States to the city alderman or the village constable are simply representatives delegated to carry out the wishes of the people; and it is hard to learn what those wishes really are if the people do not come forward and express them clearly by voting.
We Americans believe in “the rule of the majority," which means that any candidate or any proposal which gets over one-half of all the votes wins. But if a great many people should be too careless or too indifferent to vote, the whole number of votes would be small, and the number making up the majority would of course be smaller still. In such a case, a few people would be able to elect officials and to exercise the final authority for the whole people. Then we would have an oligarchy (rule of the few) instead of a democracy (rule of the whole people). Turn back to pages 28 and 18 for the explanation of these words.
WHO MAY VOTE?
Probably you are wondering just what groups of people make up the electorate, since the right to vote is not given to everybody. Each one of the 48 States has the right to decide the voting qualifications of its own citizens. However, the Constitution of the United States provides that the right of citizens to vote cannot be taken away because of (1) race, (2) color, (3) sex, or (4) previous condition of servitude (slavery). Except for these limitations each State is free to establish any qualifications which it may decide upon for its voters.
Voting qualifications in the 48 States are much alike. Persons who are refused the right to vote usually belong to the following classes:
1. Persons under 21 years old (called “minors'). 2. Criminals. 3. Noncitizens. 4. Insane or feeble-minded persons. 5. In about 20 States, persons who cannot read or write.
There are a few other groups of persons who are refused the right to vote in some States. However, we usually
think of any citizen of sound mind (1) who is not a child, (2) who is not a criminal, and (3) who has lived for long enough in a place to have a real home there, as being a "qualified voter"—that is, as a person who is fit and authorized to help in choosing our representatives and in expressing the wishes of the people as to their government.
Our groups of “qualified voters" are a most important part of our democratic system. For if we have set up a government to do hundreds of services for us, it is clear that we must choose officials who can be trusted to do this work well. Our Government can be no better than the officials who are chosen to carry out the wishes of the people. We place a heavy responsibility on citizens when we ask them to choose the best kind of men and women to be representatives of the people.
HOW DO WE LEARN THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE?
In the home it is easy to learn the opinions of members of a family about any question. They can sit down in a family group and talk things over. Each member can state his opinion directly. The same thing can be done in a small group of working people, let us say, of farmers or factory workers or salesmen in stores. In some of our groups we learn the opinions of members by taking a written vote after a free discussion. In other groups we learn the opinions of the members by taking a spoken vote. But in some groups the membership is so large that the members cannot get together and hold a discussion and take a vote on short notice. How, then, can the will of the majority be learned in our Nation or our State or other large groups ?
EXPRESSING OUR OPINION ON GOVERNMENT MATTERS Whether it be in the National group, the State group, or the county, city, or village group, citizens of our country have a number of chances to express their wishes and in that way to take an important part in their government. Some of these chances are listed below:
1. THE QUALIFIED CITIZEN CAN VOTE AT ELECTION TIME Whether it is a matter of electing a President of the United States or a new mayor for a city or a new road commissioner for a county, every qualified voter is given a chance to go to the polling place and express his choice as to the person who is going to represent him. This is one of the ways in which our country gives equal opportunities to all its qualified voters. 2. THE QUALIFIED CITIZEN CAN DO HIS PART IN NOMINATING
CANDIDATES FOR OFFICE In most government groups a number of persons are nominated (named) to be voted for at an election. We cannot choose between the candidates-persons who are “running for office”-until they have been officially nominated, because the election officials cannot put every likely person's name on the ballot.
In some States candidates are nominated by petition. Their laws provide that, if at a reasonable time before the election a certain number of voters sign a petition to have some citizen's name printed on the ballot, the election officials are obliged to do what these persons ask and to give the voters a chance to vote for the citizen thus nominated.
Sometimes candidates are nominated at a primary election. In such cases a special election is held, not to give all the voters a chance to elect someone to office but to give the members of each party a chance to choose their nominees by their votes. At a primary election each political party has a separate ballot to be used by its own members or those who wish to help choose its candidates.
Sometimes candidates are nominated by a convention. By this method the members of a party send chosen delegates to a meeting place to talk things over and then to select candidates to run for office.
The most important conventions are those which meet every fourth year to name candidates for the officers of President and Vice President of the United States. Each important political party holds such a meeting-called a
National Convention—where its delegates get together from all parts of the country in some convenient meeting place and decide on its program-called its "platform”— and select its candidates.
The National Convention of a political party is usually a group of more than a thousand delegates chosen from all of the 48 States. These delegates are chosen in some States by primary elections and in some by State conventions. When they meet in the Convention they all try to choose candidates for whom they think that a majority of the voters will be likely to vote.
After the National Conventions have nominated candidates for President and Vice President, each party conducts a campaign in which it tries to win as many votes as possible for its candidates. It holds public meetings, organizes parades, gives away buttons and badges, sends out books and pamphlets, broadcasts speeches, and sends its speakers all over the country trying to persuade qualified citizens to vote for the candidates whom it has nominated and hopes to elect.
Similar campaigns are carried on in each of the States when State officials are going to be chosen by the people.
The citizen should keep as well informed as possible before every election, so that he will know what candidates are best qualified for public office. He should also use his best efforts to have honest and able persons nominated by his party.
3. THE QUALIFIED CITIZEN MAY WISH TO BECOME A MEMBER OF A
In our country and in each of our States, groups of people who think somewhat alike on political questions have formed political parties. They wish to use the party as an organization through which they can get the kind of government services they want. Each party has its program and its platform, which set forth the wishes and plans of its members.
In this country we have what is sometimes called a “two-party system.” This means that we have two “major" or larger parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These are two large groups of people who usually oppose each other on political questions and usually favor different candidates for office.
From time to time there have been formed smaller parties, sometimes called “third parties." These smaller parties usually are made up of people who are not satisfied with either of the larger parties. They offer suggestions for new policies which they believe will help the country or their own group. Sometimes, when these suggestions have proved to be good, they have been accepted by the American people and enacted into laws. Sometimes they have been taken over by one or both of the major parties and added to their platforms or programs.
The third parties often act as critics of the promises and performances of the major parties. By so doing they help to force the major parties to keep their platforms up to date as the needs of the people change from time to time. In the past a new party sometimes was successful in electing a President and Vice President and other officials, as the Republican Party was in 1860; and sometimes third parties have succeeded in electing their candidates in the States but not in the Nation.
Through the organization of the political parties the voters elect thousands of officials to operate their government. If you study Figure 30 you can see how the people elect representatives in different government groups.
The election of all members of the National House of Representatives and of one-third of the members of the United States Senate is held in every even-numbered year on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. Some States elect State officials on the same day.
Each of the major national parties is made up of many smaller groups. Each national political party has many branch organizations in counties and cities. Most of the work of the party is done by the men and women in these local groups. Everywhere the party worker is trying to