Photo of a seven ticket voting machine, Denver Colorado, 1912
Photo of a seven ticket voting machine, Denver Colorado, 1912

Describe roles of citizens in Massachusetts and the United States, including voting in public elections, participating in voluntary associations to promote the common good, and participating in political activities to influence public policy decisions of government.

Focus Questions: What are the roles of citizens in local, state and national elections? What are the roles of citizens in influencing public policy?

Topics on this page

  • Basic roles of Citizen in US elections
  • Influence of US Citizen on public policy
Historical Background
Massachusetts Milestones
  • LGBTQ Politics and Politicians
Low Voter Participation
Electoral College
Women's Participation in Politics
Voting Sign, Taft Texas, 2016
Voting Sign, Taft Texas, 2016

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US Citizens role in elections
  • A citizens role in an election is to vote on the perspective candidates
  • Whether it's an election on country sheriffs, state judges, state or federal representatives
  • The voter determines who will take the office, that elected official will actually be the one doing the work though
  • US Citizens DO NOT get a say on the day to day business and decisions being made in said office
  • The elected official was entrusted to do the job he/she was voted in for to the best of their abilities

Influence of US Citizen on Public Policy
  • US Citizens have NO real power to influence public policy
  • The official they elected has that power
  • Citizens can write or talk to their representative and try and convince him/her to vote they way they want
  • But ultimately it is the officials vote and he/she can vote any way they want
  • But usually the official does take into consideration the wishes of the people that voted for him, its just they have a lot of voters to please so some people always get disappointed
  • What power citizens do have is the ability to not vote for the same person again the next time around
  • This and talking with your elected official is about all the power citizens have over public policy

US Department of Homeland Security page on Citizens rights and obligations

Video comparing democracy to republics

Video explaining the history of democracy and its modern definition

A 1945 educational video on democracy in the US

Historical Background:

Rotating_globe-small.gifVoting Hot Report from the U.S. Census highlights election data from 1996 to 2010.
  • Citizens of color lag behind Whites in voter registration and voting rates. For example, during the 2010 midterm elections, Latinos were the least likely to turn out to vote and most likely to not be registered.
map_icon.jpegThe Formula Behind the Voting Rights Act, an interactive map from The New York Times, June 22, 2013 includes states and counties with estimated citizen turnout below 50% in 2012 as well as the most prejudiced states based on 2008 survey data. This offers a perspective on the 2013 Supreme Court voting rights decision.

Winning the Vote: A History of Voting Rights from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Duverger's Law states that plurality or winner-take-all voting systems tend to favor a two party system.

Massachusetts Milestones

Joseph P. Kennedy III, Elizabeth Warren, Barney Frank, 2012 Boston Pride Parade
Joseph P. Kennedy III, Elizabeth Warren, Barney Frank, 2012 Boston Pride Parade

Massachusetts_state_seal.pngIn the 20th century, Massachusetts was a state dominated by the Democratic Party. It did elect Republican Scott Brown to fill the vacated Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy, although Brown was defeated in his bid for reelection by Elizabeth Warren.
  • Massachusetts has eleven electoral votes.

Click here to view Scott Brown's acceptance speech.


On a social level, Massachusetts played a pivotal role in the Women's Suffrage Movement. For more on women's suffrage, see United States History I.33.

external image 200px-US-WhiteHouse-Logo.svg.pngPresidential candidates from the state have included John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John F. Kennedy, John Kerry, and former governors Calvin Coolidge and Michael Dukakis.

For more on national politics, see House Members who became President or Presidential Candidates

For data on Massachusetts voting in presidential elections visit 270 to Win: Massachusetts and Election Atlas: Massachusetts

external image 200px-Gay_flag.svg.pngLGBTQ Politics and Politicians

  • Barney Frank served as an openly gay member of the United States House of Representatives.
    • Kenneth Reeves was the first elected openly gay African American mayor in the state (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1992-1995; 2006-2007).
primary_sources.PNGClick here to read about different issues Barney Frank has been a part of and reported on.

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.30.11 AM.pngFor more information on national politics, see Milestones in LGBT Politics in America.

Presidential Election badges, Andy Clarke.
Presidential Election badges, Andy Clarke.

external image Red_apple.jpgThe Declaration of Independence and Political Activism is a webquest that introduces students to the political achievements of important people in history.

game_icon.svg.pngThe ReDistricting Game lets players redraw election districts to achieve different political results.

Five Living Presidents, January 2009
Five Living Presidents, January 2009

primary_sources.PNGMassachusetts Voters' Bill of Rights

primary_sources.PNGNational Voter Registration Act of 1993 (also known as the Motor Voter Bill).

Low Voter Participation in American Elections

Americans vote in small numbers compared to citizens in other democracies worldwide. The International IDEA Voter Turnout website reported that in the 1990s, the United States placed only 140 of out 163 countries in percentage of voters participating in elections. Malta led the list with a voter turnout of 96.7% followed by Uruguay (96.1%) and Cambodia (90.5%). The United States had only 44.9% voter participation.

Participation in American Presidential elections is low and differs greatly by age group. In the 2000 election, only 54.7% of the electorate voted. Individuals ages 18-24 are less likely to vote (only 32% of this group voted in the 2000 Presidential election, although younger voters participated in higher numbers in the 2008 campaign). By contrast, individuals ages 65 and older had a 67.6% rate of voter participation, the highest of any voting age group.

Voter participation did increase by 5 million voters in 2008.
Multimedia.pngUnited States Elections Project,a website maintained by Professor Michael McDonald at George Mason University, offers information about voter turnout, election administration practices, and redistricting.
external image Reports.gifU.S. Elections Project: Voter Turnout from George Mason University presents voter participation data from 2000 to 2012.

See also, High School Civic Education Linked to Voting Participation and Political Knowledge, No Partisanship or Candidate Selection

Female_Rose.pngWomen's Participation in Electoral Politics

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez

Women's participation in politics has been a constant historical struggle. In 2008, women held only 13% of the elective offices in the United States.

Click here for a short History of the Women's Suffrage Movement.
primary_sources.PNGWomen in Elective Office presents 2011 statistics on women in state legislatures, governor's office and Congress for every state from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Young Women Drive Youth Turnout shows that women exceeded men by 7 percentage points in the 2012 election, from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement at Tufts University.

Additional Resources:
external image OrteliusWorldMap.jpegClick here for interactive maps and cinematic visualizations of how Americans have voted in every election since 1840 from Voting America, a website developed by the University of Richmond.
Multimedia.pngClick here for an interactive exhibit on the history of voting methods in American history from Vote: The Machinery of Democracy created by the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.
Multimedia.pngClick here for Yes We Did: Electing Our President 2008, a video made by the Barack Obama campaign about their experiences in the 2008 election.