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Duties and Responsibilities
of Citizens

The right to vote is a duty as well as a privilege. It is important for all citizens to vote in every election to make sure that the democratic, representative system of government is maintained. Persons who do not vote lose their voice in the government.

Before voting in an election, each citizen should be well informed about the issues and candidates. Resources such as GPO Access can help citizens keep current on issues facing the Congress and how members of Congress vote on these issues. The political parties distribute brochures, pamphlets and newsletters about their candidates, the party platform, and the party view on important issues. Citizens can read this information to learn about the differences among the parties. Some candidates are independent and do not belong to a political party. These candidates distribute their own information. Radio, television, newspapers, and magazines provide information, also. Each citizen needs to make his/her own decision about who would be the best representatives by considering all sides of the issues.

State and local elections involve voting on issues or laws that are of concern to the citizens, such as businesses, schools, neighborhoods, transportation, safety or health. In many states, the voters have a direct part in the lawmaking process. For example, a law that has been passed in the state legislature may be sent back to the voters to accept or reject. The voters decide directly if a new law should be put into effect. This is known as the power of referendum. Another form of direct lawmaking by the voters in some states is the initiative. In this process, a group of voters signs a petition asking for a specific law. If enough people have signed the petition, the qualified voters must be given a chance to vote for or against the proposed law. The law will go into effect if more than half (a majority) of the votes are in favor of the law. These two processes, referendum and initiative, show the authority of the people in the U.S. system of government and the importance of being a well-informed citizen. To keep the laws responsive to the needs of state and community, it is important to vote and be represented.