Citizen Participation In The Election Process

U.S. citizens are able to take an active role in government. One way people impact government is by voting. Yet there are other ways people can make their voices heard. One such way is by contacting your representatives.

Even if you voted against your current congressman or other government representative, elected officials are in office to represent their constituents. If you do not let your representatives know what you think about key issues, how can they effectively represent you in government?

Who Are My Representatives?

In order to understand who represents you in government, it helps to understand the branches of government in the United States. To maintain a balance of power, the United States government is divided into three branches:

  • Executive Branch: The executive branch of the United States government includes the president and the president’s cabinet.
  • Judicial Branch: The court system comprises the judicial branch of government. At the highest level is the Supreme Court.
  • Legislative Branch: The legislative branch consists of Congress. It is the job of Congress to develop and pass laws for the president’s approval. Congress is divided into two houses:
    • The House of Representatives: The number of members your state has in the House of Representatives depends on the population of your state. The more populous the state, the larger number of representatives the state will have.For example, California has 53 representatives in the House, while Vermont has only one. Representatives in the House, which number 435 in total, are elected every two years. There is no limit on how many terms a representative can serve.
    • The Senate: Every state in the Union elects two senators to the Senate. Each senator serves a six-year term before he goes up for re-election. There is no limit on how many terms a senator can serve.

How to Contact My Representatives

If you want to contact your representatives, you can visit the online directories that are available on the House of Representatives’ and Senate’s Web sites.

Once you have the contact information for your representative, you can write him a letter. When writing your representative, you should treat the letter as a formal business letter. Here are a few tips:

  • Always be courteous, no matter how intense the topic or how passionately you feel about an issue. Writing a rude letter will diminish your effectiveness.
  • Always include your full name in your letter or e-mail.
  • If you are writing in reference to a specific bill, include the bill number in the letter.
  • If you want to express your opinions on more than one bill, consider sending more than one letter or e-mail. A good rule to follow is “one issue, one letter.”
  • Make sure that you include your address and phone number as well as the date on which you are writing.
  • Your letter or e-mail should include the name and mailing address of the congressman that you are contacting.

You can make writing to your representative easier by breaking down your letter into three paragraphs:

  1. In one paragraph, write about your knowledge and understanding of the bill or the issue of concern. Include a few sentences on how the bill will affect you personally.
  2. In the next paragraph, describe your understanding of how your representative stands on the matter.
  3. In the final paragraph, state where you stand and tell your congressman that his vote on the bill will help determine your vote in the next election. End this paragraph with a polite request for a reply.