Getting ready to vote

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

Voting in elections isn’t exactly as simple as punching a card in a machine.

But it isn’t rocket science, either.

When considering who will be chosen to lead the state and county for the next few years, having the proper information is important.

The process is only as intimidating or futile as a single person makes it.

This year, elections will affect the course of the state’s representation on a local, regional and national level.

Alabama Democratic chairman Joe Turnham said that no one vote is unimportant.

“Government affects 100 percent of our lives 100 percent of the time,” Turnham said. “People think their voice doesn’t matter, but it really does. Even though people are cynical about politicians, democracy is the best form of government – even if it is imperfect. We all should have a voice. We should exercise it every two years when we have elections.”

The voting process is basically broken down into two levels.

The Primary

First, there is a primary on June 6, which Turnham says serves as a function of a political party. In it, voters pick a candidate to represent each individual party in the general election.

There are no party regulations in Alabama, so anyone – regardless of party loyalty – can vote for any candidate. However, anyone voting needs to make sure he or she is making the right decision beforehand.

” A voter can only choose one candidate,” Turnham said. “The Democrats have a rule that if you vote in the Republican primary, you can’t vote in the Democratic runoff. But other than that, we have an open process.”

The run-off is set for June 27, 2006.

Even the most exhaustive search for knowledge or most powerful loyalty to a party can leave a voter torn about issues.

As long as people make the effort to know what is going on and feel comfortable that their decision will help their government in the long run, that’s all that can be asked of them, he said.

“I think it’s okay to not have all the answers and to not understand everything,” Turnham said. “Elections are about choices. People that make good, informed choices will steer the proper ship for America.”

The General Election

The General Election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Most polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In the General Election, there will only be one candidate from each party. Voters are free to vote for any candidate on the ballot in the General Election, regardless of who they voted for in the Primary.

Third Party Candidates

What about parties other than the Democrats or Republicans, such as Libertarian candidates, the Green Party or Independents.

In the state of Alabama, it’s tough, if not impossible, to get a third party candidate elected, even at the local level. Candidates from third parties are not able to participate in the primaries at all.

“The primary system only benefits the two major parties in this state,” said Mark Bodenhausen, press secretary for the Libertarian Party of Alabama.

“They make the rules and they want to keep us off the ballot.”

If someone wants to run for office in the state – say for a Senate slot – the candidate must obtain 40,000 signatures on a petition in order to run.

If a third party gets 20 percent of the vote in a statewide race, they are considered a major party and can run candidates in the next election. But, they have to renew that effort every two years.

“You have to get 20 percent of the vote in a statewide race in order to be a major party. We did that. We got major party status,” Bodenhausen said of the Libertarian Party of Alabama. The party ran more than 50 candidates for office, but none of the statewide candidates got 20 percent, so now they have to petition again.

The Libertarian Party has a candidate running for governor, but whether or not the candidate’s name appears on the ballot in the General Election depends on clearing another hurdle – the 40,000 signatures must be obtained and submitted by the day of the primary.

The date was actually moved up by seven weeks, but that move is being battled with a lawsuit questioning if it’s constitutional to have moved the date and time.

There is a nonpartisan group – Independent Alabama – working to allow voters to cross party lines and improve politics in the state.

To register to vote:

To register in Alabama you must:

be a citizen of the United States

be a resident of Alabama and your county at the time of registration

be 18 years old before any election

not have been convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary (or have had your civil and political rights restored)

not currently be declared mentally incompetent through a competency hearing

swear or affirm to “support and defend the Constitution of the U.S. and the State of Alabama and further disavow any belief or affiliation with any group which advocates the overthrow of the governments of the U.S. or the State of Alabama by unlawful means and that the information contained herein is true, so help me God.”

To register to vote, go to the Board of Registrars office in Room 122 on the first floor of the Dallas County Courthouse. The office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

If they are not in, individuals can go to the Probate Judge’s office. You have 10 days before the election to register. Deadline will be May 26 to register to vote in the primary.

To fill out an application to receive an absentee ballot, voters can go to the Absentee Office, which is open on the second floor in the law library of the courthouse.

Tammy Leytham contributed to this report.