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12 Surprising Things About Democracy You Won't Remember From School

It’s less than a month until the election! Here’s some important facts to know about how democracy works in the good ol’ US of A before you head to the ballot box.

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1. Americans vote on Tuesdays because it took one day to drive a horse and buggy to the polls and one day to get back home, and, in the 1800s, you couldn't travel on Sundays.

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Think about it: If they voted on a Saturday, people couldn't get back home the next day because of the Sabbath. If you made it on a Sunday people wouldn't be able to attend their local religious service. And so they chose Tuesday to allow for travel on Monday and Wednesday. This incredibly antiquated rule was passed into law in 1845 and has remained ever since. Some want to move the date to the weekend to make it easier for more Americans to vote.

2. The constitution does not say anything about how political parties choose presidential nominees.

NBC News / youtube.com / Via giphy.com

Nowhere does the law explain how the party process should work. The Constitution merely states that the president (1) must be at least 35 years old, (2) have lived in the United States at least 14 years, and (3) be a natural-born citizen. This means that literally anyone can run for president so long as they meet the above three criteria. The real key is publicity. How can Americans know who is running so they know who they could vote for?

3. But many interesting characters outside the two-party system make a presidential run each election year.

Support for President: Gary Johnson 6%, Harambe 5%, Jill Stein 2%

One Texas poll this year showed that Jill Stein, a real living human being, was tied with Harambe, a gorilla (RIP), and trailing "Deez Nuts," a fictitious politician, in her campaign for president. These characters won a percentage of the vote simply because they're famous, and people think it's funny to write them in.

4. Voting for a third-party candidate can change the results of the election — and not how you might hope.

Netflix / Via giphy.com

In 2000, George Bush beat Al Gore in Florida by 537 votes — while Ralph Nader got 97,000 votes. Since Nader and Gore agreed on a lot of issues, a Bush win was probably not what those 97,000 Nader voters had in mind. Meanwhile, Harambe 2016 remains an impossible dream.

5. Only two states (Maine and Nebraska) have a representational system where their electors vote in proportion to the popular vote in that state.

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In every other state it's a winner-take-all system. This means that even if the vote is split 49% and 51% between two candidates, 100% of the votes from that state go toward the candidate who won by 1%. This is why it's SO IMPORTANT THAT YOU VOTE. Don't let the opposing candidate win 100% of your state because you didn't vote to tip the scales the other way.

6. Important elections have come down to just a few votes.

Universal Pictures / Via imgur.com

In the year 2000, George W. Bush became president even though he'd lost the popular vote, coming in at 47.9% to Al Gore's 48.4%. Al Gore lost Florida by only 537 votes but remember the "winner take all rules?" All of Florida's 25 electoral college votes went to Bush, who then won the election despite losing the popular vote.

7. Senators used to be chosen by old white men serving in state legislatures, not elected by the people.

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This process went from bad to worse when political contention in the 1850s left senate seats vacant and bribery resulted in appointments from 1866–1902. At last, the states amended the constitution in 1913 to allow the people to directly elect their senators, giving us more power over our government.

9. A filibuster can also prevent the Senate from performing other duties like appointing Supreme Court justices — simply because it's at odds with some senators' political agendas.

20th Century Fox / Via animadverzhun.tumblr.com

Senators are quick to admit that you need 60 or more votes to get ANYTHING done in the Senate these days (60 votes is required to end a filibuster and vote on legislation). So, basically, the legislative process is perpetually sandbagged by groups seeking to prevent new legislation from even being considered on the Senate floor.

11. Who you vote for is secret, but anyone can find out if you voted or not.

Master1305 / Getty Images / Via gettyimages.co.uk

Abstaining from the political process is not a secret! Your personal voting history (comprising your name and address) is part of the public record, along with the elections you have voted in. Anyone can look to local and state governments to determine if friends and neighbors have voted or not.

12. And finally, despite being the world's most famous democracy, America's voter turnout is one of the lowest in the world.

Paramount Pictures / Via i.imgur.com

Only 53.6% of Americans voted in the 2012 election, making us 31st in voter turnout among highly developed democratic states. That doesn't sound very democratic, but it's true. This is INSANE when you consider that elections often come down to a few hundred votes, or 1% of the population in a given state. This means "joke votes" for Harambe could actually result in one major candidate's victory by a very small margin or leave judicial seats vacant for even longer. Vote this year to make sure your voice is heard!

If it's not already clear: It's extremely important to vote in both the presidential and senate races every election cycle.

And we can help you remember. Sign up today, and NextGen Climate will remind you next time an election is happening in your district. The country needs your vote to function! Seriously!

Paid for by NextGen Climate Action Committee; http://nextgenclimate.org; not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

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