Politics for Dummies

Voter registration, absentee ballots, and politic parties


Image courtesy of the Huffington Post

For each election, over one hundred million Americans travel to the polls and cast a vote. In this upcoming election, a whole new wave of citizens will become eligible to participate in the democratic process of the United States. Many of the current Nashoba seniors are included in this illustrious group that will continue the legacy of hundreds of years of American democracy.

For those students who will be able to vote, the complex and intricate system by which our country’s elections run can be confusing. For rising college freshman, it is vitally important that the views of the young are expressed. The best way to do that is through the most powerful and most basic form of democratic expression: voting.

Despite the challenges of navigating arduous voter registration processes, it is absolutely necessary that all eligible citizens take advantage of their Constitutional right and take part in their country’s government. Below are some explanations to make this process easier for those who will soon be taking part.

In Massachusetts, eligible voters must register at least twenty days prior to the election. That means that for the 2016 election, the final day to register is October 19th. The easiest way to register to vote is to do so online; however, the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office requires that if you “submit an online application, you must have a valid driver’s license, learner’s permit, or non-driver ID issued by the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV). You must also have a signature on file with the RMV. If you don’t have an RMV ID, you can still use the online system to create an application. PRINT and sign the completed form, and then mail or bring it to your local election official.”

The online process takes about 5-10 minutes and easy-to-follow instructions can be found at https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ovr/ . For those who cannot or would prefer not to submit an online application, mail-in forms can be printed, filled out, and sent into the town hall. It is vital that all who are eligible to vote remember to register at least twenty days prior to the election. It is the first step in a journey toward exercising America’s fundamental democratic principles and preserving the freedoms and liberties of this great democracy.

For students who will soon be attending college outside of Massachusetts, it may be necessary to vote via an absentee ballot (in some cases, a student may prefer to register to vote in the state where they attend college – the key is to plan ahead and find all of the information needed, whatever option is preferred). In Massachusetts, the ballot must be received by the day of the election; therefore, it should be sent in well before the deadline to ensure that it is counted.

Application ballot request forms can be found online and mailed in to the town clerk. This should be done as soon as is reasonably possible to ensure that there is plenty of time to return the ballot before the election.

When registering to vote, some new voters may be stuck on selecting a political party. The two primary political parties are the Republican and Democratic Parties, but this is not the end of the list. Some well known third-parties include the Green Party, which advocates for environmental and social justice issues, the Libertarian Party, which focuses on reducing the size of government, and the Conservative Party, which advocates a government based on a literal interpretation of the Constitution and the Bible.

It is also possible to register as an Independent (this is listed as “unenrolled” on the form). In Massachusetts, even those who register as unenrolled or with a minor third party can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries. However, Massachusetts recognizes the Green Party and the United Independent Party (not to be confused with registering unenrolled) as major third-parties and voters registered with those parties or with either of the two major parties may vote only in their party’s primary.

The two largest national parties are the Republican and Democratic parties. Historically, only two political parties have been able to hold much clout in national politics. The Republican party is the more conservative of the two (right-wing) while the Democratic party is more liberal (left-wing). This means that Republicans will generally support conservative social policies (such as pro-life and anti-same sex marriage legislation). This is generally centered around an Evangelical Christian ideology, although this is not always the case.

Republicans will also tend to be more economically conservative, supporting tax cuts (especially for the wealthy; see: trickle-down economics) and fiscal conservatism (less government spending). Republicans traditionally support expanded spending on the military and reduced spending on social programs. Republicans tend to be warhawks (with libertarian-Republicans being the primary exception). 

In contrast, the Democratic Party tends to be more socially liberal, supporting civil liberty and increasing equality. They are generally pro-choice. Democrats also tend to support economically liberal policies. These are generally centered around decreasing inequality and creating economic growth from the bottom up (which can result in increased taxes on the wealthy). They also tend to support expanded spending on social programs, while Democrats’ views on military spending and war vary wildly, the Democratic party is typically home to more anti-war voters and fields more candidates that support cutting military spending.

Although there are many generalizations that can be gleaned from a general study of America’s political parties, it is vital that voters research the policies of specific candidates: some will toe the party line, while others will be only loosely affiliated. The most important characteristic a voter can exemplify is well-informed. It is vital to the strength of American democracy and the well-being of this nation’s future that subsequent generations take up an active role in the voting process and stay abreast of the issues of the day so that they can help to chart the best course for America at the polls. It is the collective civic responsibility of every voting-age American to make this republican democracy a participatory one, and the best way to turn that participation into benefits for the American people is to stay informed.