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Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 2002 / 26 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Tom Purcell

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Consumer Reports

How to vote in America | "So you recently became an American citizen and you want to vote on Tuesday?"

"Yes, I wish to vote just like other Americans do."

"Excellent! By voting, every American has the opportunity to take part in our government's decision-making process."

"How do I do this voting?"

"First you need to get the lay of the land. You should read the American Constitution to understand the basic principles upon which our country was founded."


"Yes, principles. Our belief in liberty for all is an example of a principle. Through voting, we elect representatives who are supposed to embrace these principles when they write our laws."

"OK, I shall read this Constitution."

"You'll also want to study the Bill of Rights. They represent 10 amendments to the Constitution intended to protect the civil liberties of individuals. And you'll want to read the 17 other amendments. The 16th amendment, for instance, was passed into law in 1917. It created the income tax."

"Ah, I am very familiar with this tax. After I study American principles, then what?"

"Your next step is to study the issues. See, there is a lot of disagreement in America, just as in any country. Some people think our government has got too big and is not following the limited-government spirit of our Constitution. Other people think the government should get way bigger."


"Yes, some people want higher taxes to fund more government programs and to enforce more regulations. They think that would be good for America. Other people think it would be disastrous. Some people want guns to be banned, for instance, while others don't. Some people want to go to war with Saddam, some do not. You get the idea."

"So I need to study issues very carefully, then vote for person who is best?"

"Well, not exactly. In a perfect world, everyone would always vote for the best candidate, but things aren't perfect. In America we usually don't vote FOR a candidate. We vote AGAINST the other guy."

"You are going to have to explain."

"See, in America, one-third of voters always vote Republican, one-third always vote Democrat and the last third is made up of voters who can go either way. This group decides who wins and loses."


"See, most people don't think things through. They get their news and information from television. That means candidates have to raise huge amounts of money to buy advertising to convince these voters to vote against the other guy."

"Where do they get this money?"

"Excellent question. It comes from individuals or organizations that have an agenda. We call such organizations special interest groups. They want to put the guy into office who will advance their agenda, and they'll raise huge amounts of money so their guy can purchase advertising that makes the other guy look bad."

"I am a little puzzled by this, but what next?"

"Once you decide who you are going to vote against, then you cast your vote. There are many different ways this is accomplished in America. Some voting polls use punch cards, some use touch-screen computers, some even use a pencil and a piece of paper."

"So is this voting hard to do?"

"Not really, but a lot of people seem to get awfully confused by it. As a result, thousands of votes are usually tossed out. When a race is really close - as it was in Florida during the 2000 election - things can get really messy. And this year's election is going to be a nail biter."

"So what will happen in this close election?"

"Well, first the media shows up. They start confusing the public with stories that later turn out to be false. Then the lawyers are bused in; they make things more confusing. Then the experts hit the cable channels and before you know it, nobody knows what is going on."

"Then how is election decided?"

"By the courts. First a lower court judge rules, then a higher court overturns him. Then a higher court overturns that court. Then the state supreme court overturns that court. Then the federal Supreme Court overturns that court. Then we've got our winner."

"I see."

"You look confused. Is there a problem?"

"I did not know the American voting process was so messy."

"Relax, man. America is a strong country. Somehow we keep surviving in spite of our voting process."

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04/26/02: Zacarias Moussaoui gets expert legal advice

© 2002, Tom Purcell