Voting is the right and privilege of every U.S. citizen over the age of 18. This right is protected by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, and the U.S. Constitution. A citizen's right to vote also includes the right to have that vote counted.
If you are not a U.S. citizen, you cannot vote. The government can deport you if you register to vote or vote in a U.S. election. There are rumors that if you have lived in the U.S. for many years, you can vote. This is not true.
Elections for state and federal offices are usually held in November of even-numbered years. In the U.S. presidential elections are held every four years. House representatives are elected every two years. Senators are elected for a six-year term. In Maine, the governor is elected every four years. Maine Senators and Representatives to the House are elected for two-year terms. (See Government for a description of these roles.)
Municipal and town elections are often scheduled at other times of the year. Special elections may also be held at other times of the year. In addition to voting for elected officials, many elections include state and local referenda and bond issues.
In order to register to vote, you must be 17 and must have established and maintained a residence in the town or city in which you intend to vote. To vote you must be be at least 18 years of age. A 17-year old may vote in a primary election if the voter will turn 18 by the General Election. You can get a voter registration card at:
- your town office,
- offices of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles
- many social services agencies,
- voter registration drives.
You can register to vote in Maine on the same day as an election.
Find out where you vote by calling your town office. Cities with large populations often have several places for voting, called "polling stations." Where you vote depends on where you live in the city. You must make sure you appear at the designated place for your address. When you call your town office be sure to ask what hours the polling station is open.
You cannot be turned away from the polls. If you cannot provide identification, you can still vote. You must be allowed to vote a "challenged ballot." This means that your vote must be counted. The eligibility to vote will only be questioned if the outcome of the election is affected. If you are in line when the polling station closes, you can still register and vote.
Directions on how to vote are available at the polling station. If you have a question about the procedure, ask an election official. If you make a mistake marking a ballot, fold the ballot and ask an elected official to give you a replacement ballot. You can receive help if you are visually impaired or otherwise handicapped.
You can also vote by absentee ballot. Get an absentee ballot application up to three months in advance. Ask your town clerk by making a written request or telephone request, or by appearing in person. Once you have the ballot, fill it out. In order to be counted, the town clerk must receive the ballot by 8:00 p.m. on election day.
Under U.S. law, all males between the ages of 18 through 25 have to register with the "Selective Service System." This system provides the U.S. government with the names of men who are eligible to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces or do other national service. Right now, service in the U.S. military is completely voluntary. The U.S. government has not compelled men to join the military (the "draft") since 1972.
Were the draft to be adopted again, being called does not mean you would have to serve in the military. It means you must present yourself if called. If you cannot serve because of health problems or because being in the military would go against your deeply held religious or moral beliefs, you may be able to apply to avoid military service.
If you are a male, and you get your green card (permanent residency) when you are between the ages of 18 through 25, register with the Selective Service as soon as possible after getting the green card. If you are a male and you got your green card while under the age of 18, you must register with the Selective Service as soon as you turn 18.
Even men who have no legal immigration papers are supposed to register if they are between the ages of 18 through 25 and if they consider the United States to be their permanent home. Only men who are in the United States with temporary visas or other temporary legal statuses are not required to register. Men who are supposed to register but do not risk being charged with a federal crime. They are also ineligible for federal and state student loans.
Many states will not allow a man between the ages of 18 through 25 to get a drivers license if he has not registered with the Selective Service. Also, a man who was supposed to register but who did not may be turned down for U.S. citizenship. (See Becoming A Citizen for citizenship eligibility requirements.)
To register for Selective Service. To register online, go to www.sss.gov. You can also register by mail in two ways: by filling out a postcard available at all U.S. post offices and mailing it to the address on the card, or by printing off a registration form from www.sss.gov and mailing it to the address on the form. After you register, you will receive a letter giving you your Selective Service registration number and the date of your registration. You can also check your registration online at www.sss.gov.
If you live and work in the United States, you must pay taxes. Taxes support government services, such as public schools, health care programs and social services, and the military. In Maine you must pay income taxes to the federal government and the State of Maine, property taxes to your local government if you own a home, estate tax and inheritance tax when a death occurs, sales tax when you purchase products, and use tax if you purchase items out of state. Because the tax laws are extremely complex, you may wish to consult a tax advisor before you file any forms.
Income Taxes. If your earned income is above a certain amount, you must pay income tax to the federal government and the State of Maine by April 15 for the previous calendar year. (You may get an extension untio August 15th, if you request it before the April 15 deadline. But if you owe any taxes, you would need to pay the taxes you estimate you owe when you mail the extension request.) "Income" for tax purposes, however, is not necessarily the exact amount you have been paid. The amount of your "income" can change depending on various factors, including deductions you might have (expenses that qualify to reduce your income) and possible exemptions (automatic offsets). It is very important to check with a tax advisor to determine if any of these factors will reduce your tax liability.
If you are undocumented but you are working, you must pay taxes. U.S. tax laws require you to file a tax return unless you earned less than the minimum amount. Also, failing to file can cause immigration problems if you are eligible to apply for legal immigration status in the future. To get a “green card,” often you must prove that you have “good moral character.” If you worked and did not file a tax return, Immigration can say you don’t have “good moral character” and deny your application for a visa or for residency. Even if you are being paid in cash, you should keep a notebook where you write down every week:
- where you worked,
- for whom,
- when and how many hours,
- what type of work, and
- how much you were paid.
You will then be able to know your total income for the year in order to file your taxes. You can also use this notebook to help prove your work history to Immigration if there is a chance to apply for residency in the future under the immigration laws.
You do not need a Social Security number to pay your taxes. Instead, you can get a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) using IRS form W-7 so that you can pay your taxes and have them properly credited to you. Once you have a TIN, you can use it to have taxes taken out of your paycheck by your employer, and to file your tax return. You can get a TIN by filing a tax return (IRS form 1040 or 1040EZ), together with the IRS form W-7. You must include with the W-7 form a copy of a government-issued photo ID, such as the page of your passport that has your name and photo, or a “matricula consular” or other national ID card.
Important: you may be eligible for the Earned Income Credit (EIC). Any "credit" is a direct reduction of tax otherwise owed. The EIC is designed for low-income working individuals and families. Your income and family size determine the amount of the credit. Even if you do not owe tax, you may be eligible for the credit. This means that the government sends you money. You may be eligible for other credits, such as the child care credit, and deductions as well. Contact a tax advisor for information.
You are not eligible for the EIC if your children have not lived in the U.S. with you during the tax year. Even if you are sending money to your home country to support your children, and even if you have valid Social Security numbers for them, if they have not lived with you in the U.S., you cannot take the EIC. Unfortunately, many “tax preparers” who are either dishonest or misinformed are “helping” immigrants whose children are not in the U.S. to take the EIC. This is especially true in the Mexican community, since U.S. law allows Mexican children who are not in the U.S. to get valid Social Security numbers for various reasons.
Claiming the EIC credit when you are not eligible can lead to large debts, plus interest and penalties. You can end up owing the U.S. government several thousand dollars for a single year. So, remember - if your children have not lived in the U.S. with you during the tax year - you are not eligible for the EIC. If you are asked by the person preparing your taxes to sign the Earned Income Credit form, do not sign it, and do not trust the person who is helping you with your taxes to have done your taxes properly. Taking the EIC when you shouldn’t can cause complications later if you are helping your family to immigrate, and can also cause denial of an application to become a U.S. citizen.
In most parts or Maine, there are free programs where volunteers help people prepare their tax returns. You can ask at your town’s public library, call 211, or go here to find out about these programs. Often these free programs are the best way to be sure your tax return is prepared correctly.
If you are an employee, it is likely that your employer has "withheld" sufficient money from your earnings to pay any tax you owe. Nevertheless you are required to file forms to make sure the amount of your withholding matches the actual taxes due.
The forms for filing income tax returns with the federal government and the State of Maine are similar, but separate. Be sure you file two returns: one to the U.S. and one to Maine. Check with the Internal Revenue Service (U.S.), the Bureau of Revenue Services (Maine), or a tax advisor to determine which forms are appropriate for you to use. Get forms after January 1 at the post office, your town offices, or your local library. You can also download them from the internet. (See Resources below.)
If the amount your employer withheld is more than the amount you owe in tax, you can get a refund. If the amount your employer withheld is less than the amount you owe, you must pay the difference with the tax forms when you file.
Businesses must also pay federal and state income taxes. Check with a tax advisor to determine your business's tax liability.
Property tax. If you own real estate (a home or land), you must pay an annual tax on its value to local government. Each local government employs an assessor who determines the value of your real estate. The local government then sets the tax rate, which is applied to all properties.
Federal estate and state inheritance tax. These taxes are based upon the value of your property at the time of your death. Most people do not have to pay these taxes because the total value of their property is less than the taxable amount.
Sales tax. You pay this tax when you purchase an item. The seller adds it to the purchase price. You do not need to fill out any forms.
Use tax. You are subject to a use tax on items you purchase out of state, by mail order and telephone order from out-of-state companies, and from online companies. Forms are available from the Bureau of Revenue.
Businesses must also pay local property tax, sales, use tax and payroll taxes. They must also collect taxes if they sell products.
Maine Voter's Guide, available online at http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/voter-info/index.html
Department of the Secretary of State
Division of Elections and Commissions
101 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0101
All U.S. post office branches have a post card that you can fill out there to register for Selective Service. Or, you can register on-line at
Maine Revenue Services
24 State House Station
Augusta, E 04333
Internal Revenue Service (U.S.) www.irs.gov
Find out about more resources and tips for filing your taxes.
If you have a problem with the IRS, contact the Low Income Tax Clinic at Pine Tree Legal Assistance. Call 774-8211 and listen for a greeting in your language: English, Khmer, Spanish, Somali, Vietnamese, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, French, or Arabic. Leave a message and they will call you back with an interpreter.
Updated November 2008