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One strange and sometimes troubling thing about American democracy is that a lot of us don't participate in it. According to a 2006 Pew Research Center study, about one in five adults aren't registered to vote, and another 23 percent are "registered but rare" voters, who hardly ever show up at the polls. It's as if we've forgotten that there were was a time, not that too long ago - 1964, to be exact - when three American heroes named Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner literally gave their lives to ensure that everyone had the right to vote.
Unfortunately, if you haven't registered by now and you live in Alaska, Mississippi, Rhode Island or South Carolina, you're out of luck, because the deadlines in those states passed this weekend. The good news, though, is that in the remaining states and the District of Columbia, you can still register - but you'd better do so right away.
Today, Oct. 8, is the deadline for registering in Hawaii, Tennessee and Washington state. And you've only got until Tuesday, Oct. 9, if you live in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, D.C., Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas or Utah. Voter registration in Missouri closes on Wednesday, Oct. 10. If you live in Idaho, New York, North Carolina or Oklahoma, you have until Friday, Oct. 12.
If you live in any of the remaining states, you've got a bit more time.
The website of the U.S. Education Assistance Commission provides a map with links to voter registration instructions and other information for all the states. Longdistancevoter.org also offers an easy-to-use guide to how to register in your state. Thirteen states actually allow you to register online.
Another great tool for voters is the Election Protection app, available for iPhones and Android devices, which will verify your voter registration, find your polling place, answer frequently asked questions about voting in your state and report any incidents that might prevent you from making your voice heard at the polls.
One big concern this year is that new laws in many states require voters to show photo IDs at polling places. Critics complain that these laws may prevent many older voters - especially those who don't have current driver's licenses - from voting and, in a number of states, courts have at least temporarily blocked their implementation. CanIVote.org, a website maintained by the National Association of Secretaries of State, offers a handy guide to what sort of identification is required in your state. -Patrick J. Kiger