Surprises often come in boxes. Birthday presents wrapped in colorful paper, brown paper packages mailed from a friend. No matter what kind of box it is, people like to open it up and see what's inside. In America, and in many other countries, one special kind of box contains the future. It's called a ballot box. What people put into the box on election day can change the course of history.
Elections are the lifeblood of a democracy. The word democracy literally means "the people rule," an important concept in America's history. In the mid-1700s, England began passing laws that made the American colonies angry. The colonists had to pay more and more taxes and enjoyed less and less freedom. They felt the government of England didn't represent their interests. On July 4, 1776, the colonies declared their independence from England. They wanted to establish a democracy where people could have a voice in government.
An effective democracy holds regular elections. In America, elections are held every two years for members of Congress. In these elections, all seats in the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate seats are up for grabs. In addition, every four years, voters go to the polls to elect the nation's president and vice-president. Voters also regularly cast their ballots for state and city government leaders and local school board members. Sometimes they also have to vote on a proposed law.