How to wear your “I Voted” sticker proudly: Four steps to becoming an educated voter

With one vote, you can help shape the future of American government. Your vote does matter and it does make a difference.

Over the last two presidential elections, young voters between the ages of 18 and 24 have increased their voting rates by 12 percent, according to the US Census.

Young voters were one of the keys to the election of Barack Obama in 2008, according to political experts. A record number of voters between the ages of 18 and 25 showed up to the polls in the 2008 election and nearly 68 percent of those voters were said to have preferred Obama to John McCain.

Organizations, like Rock the Vote, have been pushing for young Americans to cast their ballots at the polls.

You have a right to vote, so take advantage of your opportunity to make a difference. Democracy is about rights and responsibility, says Elizabeth Dahl, political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. With this year’s upcoming presidential election, here are four tips to help you become an educated voter.

1. Get Registered

Don’t wait. Register to vote. It’s always the right time to vote. You have to register ahead of time and the registration process is easy, Dahl says. Voting allows you to take an active role in decisions that will affect your city, state and country, according to Nebraska Secretary of State John A. Gale.

You can register in person at your County Election Office or at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

You can also register by mail. Mail in registrations can be mailed to the county election official listed on the back of the registration form. Be sure to include a copy of photo identification or a document with your name and current address on it to make going to the polls easier.

To register to vote in the state of Nebraska you must: be 18 years old, be a United States citizen, live in the state of Nebraska, be mentally competent and not be a convicted felon.

When registering, you can choose a party affiliation—Republican, Democrat or Libertarian—or you can choose non-partisan.

2. Do Your Homework 

Find out what issues are important to you. Then, find out what candidates shares similar stances to yours on the issues you value.

“Check the facts and get your story straight,” Dahl says.

Non-partisan groups are some of the best ways to go, Dahl says. She prefers websites and voting guides put out by the League of Women Voters. The League of Women Voters website provides background information on candidates and issues. Visit www.lwv.org for information on national candidates. Visit lwv-ne.org or www.omahalwv.org for local information.

Other websites, like votesmart.org, have information on local and federal candidates and current officials. You can read basic information on some of the most important issues to consider when voting. You can also take a quiz to see what candidates are the best matches for you. The quiz asks questions about your stance on issues like abortion, Afghanistan, education, marriage and social security. By answering the “yes” or “no” questions, the website can tell you which candidates hold similar stances. One budget question asks if you support reducing Medicare spending in order to balance the budget.

It’s also important to check out websites of individual candidates and of the different political parties.

“If you want to find out what a policy is, go straight to the web page,” Dahl says. “Students come in with outrageous stories and you need to check out the facts.”

Keep an open-mind and consider the viewpoints of all candidates.

3. Get to the Polls

Go to your designated polling place on Election Day and make your vote count.

Voting isn’t hard, Dahl says, but it takes time.

At your designated polling location, workers will verify you are a registered voter. Upon verification, you will receive your proper ballots. You will then be instructed on voting procedures, like how to mark your ballots, what to do if you make a mistake and what to do with your ballots once you are finished, according to Nebraska Secretary of State website.

Any registered voter may also vote by absentee ballot. Absentee ballots can be requested from your county clerk or election commissioner either by mail or in person. The ballot can be requested 120 days before the election. If you’re returning your ballot by mail, the county clerk or election commissioner must receive it by 8 p.m. CST on Election Day.

4. Stay Involved

Stay involved even after the ballots are counted. Continue to pay attention to issues you’re passionate about and to candidates you support.

“I keep up on the news as best as I can but I understand when people need to take a break,” Dahl says. “We can’t afford not to pay attention.”

When you cast your vote, you decide your future. Don’t let someone else decide for you.

“If we don’t vote, then we risk endangering the very democracy we love. Democracy shouldn’t be taken for granted,” Dahl says.

 

Exercise your right to vote and let your voice be heard so that when Election Day rolls around, you can wear your “I Voted” sticker proudly.

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