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Citizen Sources of Information

Voting rights in the United States have represented an ongoing battle since the founding of the country and, in some states, they are still hotly contested as conservatives attempt to stymie the voting rights of minorities and the poor in order to reduce the votes that liberal candidates get in elections. Originally, under the U.S. Constitution, only white male citizens over the age of 21 were eligible to vote. This racist and sexist injustice was fought against by voting rights advocates, and voting rights have been extended several times over the course of the country’s history. Currently, any citizen over the age of 18 cannot be denied the right to vote, regardless of race, religion, sex, disability, or sexual orientation. In every state except North Dakota, citizens must register to vote, and laws regarding the registration process vary by state as do the obstacles to citizens actually casting a vote. Under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, passed during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, all male citizens, regardless of their race, received equal treatment under the law. This also meant that they could not be deprived of their voting rights without due process. The Fifteenth Amendment is specifically dedicated to protecting the right of all citizens to vote, regardless of their race. However, this was not the end of the voting rights struggle for African Americans because of widespread discrimination in some states, which resorted to the use of poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and literacy tests to discriminate. African Americans were not assured full voting rights until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Women were denied the right to vote until 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed. Prior to that, women were only able to vote in select states [7].

Private citizens and campaign staff can find a great deal of information about politicians, elections, lobbying, and contributions at the Center for Responsive Politics, which is a research organization that tracks money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy ( The mission of the organization is “to produce and disseminate peerless data and analysis on money in politics to inform and engage Americans, champion transparency, and expose disproportionate or undue influence on public policy” [8].

The U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC) was created in 1975 to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which is the statute that governs the financing of federal elections ( The duties of the FEC, which is an independent regulatory agency, are to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and to oversee the public funding of presidential elections.

The FEC is made up of six members, who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Each member serves a 6-year term, and two seats are subject to appointment every 2 years. By law, no more than three commissioners can be members of the same political party, and at least four votes are required for any official commission action. This structure was created to encourage nonpartisan decisions. The chairmanship of the FEC rotates among the members each year, with no member serving as chairman more than once during his or her term [9].

Data available from the FEC include data tables for congressional candidate committees, national party committees, political action committees, independent expenditures, and electioneering communications are available for each semi-annual period in non-election years and available quarterly in election years. Presidential data tables are available semi-annually beginning in the year preceding presidential elections and quarterly in presidential election years.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) ( was established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). The EAC is an independent, bipartisan commission charged with developing guidance to meet HAVA requirements, adopting voluntary voting system guidelines, and serving as a national clearinghouse of information on election administration. EAC also accredits testing laboratories and certifies voting systems, and audits the use of HAVA funds. Other responsibilities include maintaining the national mail voter registration form developed in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

HAVA established the Standards Board and the Board of Advisors to advise EAC. The law also established the Technical Guidelines Development Committee to assist EAC in the development of voluntary voting system guidelines. The four EAC commissioners are appointed by the U.S. president and confirmed by the Senate. The EAC is required to submit an annual report to Congress as well as testify periodically about HAVA progress and related issues. The commission also holds public meetings and hearings to inform the public about its progress and activities. The EAC also provides frequently asked questions (FAQs) for voters (in seven languages) with information on registering to vote through casting a ballot on Election Day. The FAQs answer 14 common questions from citizens about voting in federal elections [10].

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