Go Vote: Understanding and Participating In United States Elections

October 30, 2018

Whether you’re a frequent voter or you’re a newbie to the voting scene, we could all use a refresher on understanding and participating in United States elections … unless you teach U.S. Government, that is. For those of us who can hardly remember what we had for lunch yesterday, it’s probably time we try to retain at least a little bit of what we learned all those years ago.

To vote, you have to of course, first register … unless you live in North Dakota, the only state that does not require registration! You can register to vote by following the requirements for your particular state. While no two states run their elections the same, the steps to vote are the same in most states. Most states assign you a specific polling place, or voting location, that is close to the address you list on your voter registration. Every state has absentee voting, which means you can still cast your vote even if you can’t make it to your physical polling place on Election Day. In some states, you might need to provide a reason you can’t make it to the polling place. In others, you can vote absentee no matter what. Finally, if you’re busy on Election Day, in some states, you can vote early by casting your vote by mail or in person at the local election official’s office or at another location designated by the local election official. Come prepared on Election Day. Some states require voters to present identification at the polling location.

Members of the House of Representatives stand for re-election every two years. This year, 35 of the 100 Senate seats and all 435 in the House of Representative are up for grabs. Each state is divided into districts and each district votes for one representative. The number of districts depends on the population in each state. For example, California, which has a large population, has 53 representatives in the House. Alaska, on the other hand, has only three representatives since not many people live there! As for the Senate, each state is represented by two Senators, regardless of its population. Senators serve for six years, but elections for Senators are staggered. Every two years, one-third of the Senators run for re-election.

Interested in where congressional districts begin and end? Hang a map to help you remember congressional district boundaries in effect. The map, which is available at the U.S. Government Bookstore, includes county names and boundaries for each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In Presidential voting years, when you vote for the President on the first Tuesday in November every four years, you’re technically not casting your vote for President, but rather an “elector” who pledges to vote for either the Republican Presidential Nominee or the Democratic Presidential nominee in what is known as the Electoral College. Fifty states and the District of Columbia are each assigned a certain number of electors in a system that mirrors Congress: one elector for each of the 435 Representatives, one for each of the 100 Senators, and three electors for the District of Columbia. Each state receives a particular number of electors based on population size. Therefore, every ten years when the Census is conducted, some states might gain or lose electoral votes. In most states, the candidate who gets the majority of the popular vote takes all of its electors. Electors cast their state’s electoral votes in mid-December. A candidate must receive 270 of the 538 electoral votes to become President or Vice President.

Continue this refresher on the Electoral College. Nomination and Election of the President and Vice President of the United States from the GPO Bookstore describes the rules and process for nominating and electing the President and Vice President of the United States. It includes information on the Electoral College and the electoral voting system, as well as the delegate nominating process in the national party conventions.

So Election Day is over. But policymaking is only just getting started! Contact your representatives about issues that matter to you. And use the United States Senate Telephone Directory to do it. Each year the GPO produces this directory. It contains addresses and telephone numbers for United States Senators, Senate committee members, and their staff. Also, it presents information on caucuses, coalitions and bicameral organizations; the House of Representatives; the executive branch; and more.

Be the life of the political party by getting to know your Congressmen and women! The GPO Bookstore also offers a Congressional Pictorial Directory. This handy guide provides a color photograph of each Member of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the 115th Congress and details each Member’s length of service, political party affiliation, and congressional district.

You’re all prepared for the polls. Happy voting!

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Find more than a million official Federal Government publications from all three branches at www.govinfo.gov.

About the author: Blogger contributor Cat Goergen is the PR Specialist in GPO’s Public Relations office.

Senator Byrd and the Roman Republic

June 30, 2010

The passing of Senator Robert C. Byrd from the American political scene also marks the departure of a great American character. This fiddle-playing high school graduate who earned a law degree at night (in 1963) and a college degree via correspondence courses (in 1994) regularly quoted the Bible, the classics, and large swaths of memorized poetry on the floor of the Senate was also a historian of the institution he loved most: The United States Senate.

Curiously, his reverence for the Senate and fierce defense of its constitutional role resulted in a most remarkable Government book on ancient Rome: The Senate of the Roman Republic: Addresses on the History of Roman Constitutionalism. The roots of this book lay in Senator Byrd’s determined opposition to the idea of the line-item veto, which would grant the President the power to veto particular items in appropriations bills. Byrd viewed this proposal as usurping the Senate’s role and a threat to constitutional checks and balances. As a result, to quote Senate Historian Richard C. Baker’s Foreword, the Senator “initiated a series of fourteen addresses in opposition to the proposed line-item veto concept. During the following five and a-half months, he delivered each of the speeches – packed with names, dates, and complex narratives – entirely from memory and without recourse even to notes on consultation with staff aides.” (Italics in the original).

(Note: I knew Dick Baker when he was Senate Historian and asked him about the Senator’s role in writing both this book and his 4-volume The Senate: 1789-1989. He assured me that the Senator was indeed the author of these books, not just a speech reader.)

The Senate of the Roman Republic is replete with scholarly references to Polybius, Tacitus, and Montesquieu, as well as impassioned arguments against the line-item veto – surely a unique method of resisting encroachment on the rights of the Senate, and one we’ll not likely see again. Likewise, the departure of Robert Byrd, a man of the 20th century whose personality retained a bit of the flavor of the 19th, will leave Congress with a bit less color and zest.

You can browse in The Senate of the Roman Republic here, get a copy here, or find it in a library here.

To view a page listing all of Senator Byrd’s historical works, go here.

The Constitution: Pocket and Otherwise

May 28, 2010

Last week a Capitol Hill paper did a piece on the popularity of the United States Constitution as a publication and one of the news services picked it up. Although those of us who work at the Government Printing Office think of the “Pocket Constitution” authorized by Congress as the classic printed version, many other organizations also print and distribute copies, as the article points out. At least one other Federal Government agency does its own edition of the Pocket Constitution: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), as part of its effort to encourage immigrants to become citizens. Like the congressional edition, this little booklet throws in the Declaration of Independence as well.

All of this made me curious about how many editions of the Constitution currently appear in Federal documents of various sorts. It turns out there are quite a few.

Note: This is a totally unscientific and partial survey based on what I found in our online bookstore.

For those who can’t get enough of the Constitution and its interpretation, there’s the Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, published every 10 years or so and weighing in at an imposing 9 pounds, six ounces, not counting the supplements issued to keep it up to date.  If you can’t wait to start reading, you can find it here.

For those of us who like to contemplate history’s “might have beens,” you can’t do better than The Constitution of the United States of America as Amended; Unratified Amendments; Analytical Index, which, in addition to the text of the Constitution, details about the ratification of each amendment to the Constitution, and an exhaustive index, discusses six other amendments that were submitted to the states for ratification but not adopted. You can read them here and find out which unratified amendment was the only one actually signed by the President.

Naturally, the Constitution is also included in the procedural manuals of the Senate and the House of Representatives. And don’t forget Interpreting Old Ironsides: An Illustrated Guide to the USS Constitution – oh, wait, that’s a different kind of vessel of democracy.

I think I’ve made my point, and I haven’t even touched on everything in our online bookstore, let alone what you could find through the vast resources of the Federal Depository Library Program. Maybe someone can put a list together before the Fourth of July…

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