Why Voting is So Important

By former Secretary of State, BILL JONES

One of the most often-cited reasons people give for not voting is their sense of futility… they don't think their vote makes a difference; they claim they have no impact on government, and vice versa; they believe "special interests" run everything so their votes don't count. To those pessimists, skeptics and cynics, I say "wrong!" There are too many real-life examples where one vote has made the difference between winning and losing, between enacting a law or bond measure and rejecting it. Especially at the local level, we repeatedly see instances where a city council member, school board trustee, member of the board of supervisors, or a special district member — such as water board or fire district — is elected by one vote. And my personal experience in the 1994 General Election is demonstrative of the value of one vote. Had less than two voters per precinct voted for a different candidate, I would not be your Secretary of State today.

History proves this same value of a vote. In 1894, a Del Norte constable was seated by one vote, and in 1882 a supervisor won his seat in that county by the same simple margin. In 1948, President Truman carried Ohio and California by less than one vote per precinct, thereby winning enough electoral votes to give him the presidency. And in 1960, one vote change in each precinct would have defeated John F. Kennedy. Clearly one vote — your vote — can determine the margin of victory.

What groups of people are least likely to participate in election day decisions? Political pollsters and demographers indicate the traditionally lowest participation rates come from 18-35 year-olds, minorities, blue-collar workers, those who are lesser educated, renters, unemployed persons, those with the lowest income levels, and, until recently, women. Fortunately, women have about reached the same level of voting as men.

Maybe you don't care whether you get to vote or not. Maybe none of the candidates or issues appeals to you. But what if suddenly, a week before the election, something happens to change your mind? What if an obscure part of one of the ballot measures suddenly is publicized and you realize it will affect your livelihood? Now you want to voice your opinion and it's too late to register. So why not at least get your name on the voter rolls? That way you're ready to vote in any election.

So the next time you hear someone complain about government or say their vote doesn't count, remind them that this country allows them a powerful voice to be expressed on election day! And if they don't vote, they've given up the privilege of complaining. Because if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Make your voice heard! You've got the power!

Call 1-800-345-VOTE -- 24 hrs. a day, 7 days a week,
to have a voter registration form mailed to you
OR download a form at

(Information provided by the Secretary of State's Office)

1. You have the right to cast a ballot if you are a valid registered voter.
A valid registered voter means a United States citizen who is a resident in this state, who is at least 18 years of age and not in prison or on parole for conviction of a felony, and who is registered to vote at his or her current residence address.

2. You have the right to cast a provisional ballot if your name is not listed on the voting rolls.

3. You have the right to cast a ballot if you are present and in line at the polling place prior to the close of the polls.

4. You have the right to cast a secret ballot free from intimidation.

5. You have the right to receive a new ballot if, prior to casting your ballot, you believe you made a mistake.
If at any time before you finally cast your ballot, you feel you have made a mistake, you have the right to exchange the spoiled ballot for a new ballot. Absentee voters may also request and receive a new ballot if they return their spoiled ballot to an elections official prior to the closing of the polls on Election Day.

6. You have the right to receive assistance in casting your ballot, if you are unable to vote without assistance.

7. You have the right to return a completed absentee ballot to any precinct in the county.

8. You have the right to election materials in another language, if there are sufficient residents in your precinct to warrant production.

9. You have the right to ask questions about election procedures and observe the elections process.
You have the right to ask questions of the precinct board and election officials regarding election procedures and to receive an answer or be directed to the appropriate official for an answer. However, if persistent questioning disrupts the execution of their duties, the board or election officials may discontinue responding to questions.

10. You have the right to report any illegal or fraudulent activity to a local elections official or to the Secretary of State's Office.

If you believe you have been denied any of these rights, or if you are aware of any election fraud or misconduct, please call the Secretary of State's confidential toll-free

1-800-345-VOTE (8683)
Secretary of State | State of California