In the United States, all men and women are free to vote, but a U.S. Census Bureau study says that the poor are not taking advantage of that basic right.

During 1984, the last presidential election year, a study showed that only half of the families with an income below $5,000 registered to vote, and only 38 percent actually voted.Conversely, 81 percent of those with family income over $35,000 registered and 74 percent voted.

Experts believe education may be one factor that makes a difference. But the biggest determinant in whether or not people vote, they say, is whether a citizen believes that his vote can make a difference.

Most of the poor have come to believe that they can't change anything - including their lives.

Registering to vote is a simple process. The form takes about three minutes to fill out. And voting is an important responsibility that takes very little time.

There's a compelling and simple reason for those with low-income to get involved and vote: By voting, they can gain input into the policies and practices that impact their lives.

During any legislative session, a significant portion of the bills concern the poor, from food and housing to welfare and other issues.

Many groups use the power given to them at the polls to change policy and further their causes.

The elderly, banded together under the auspices of the American Association of Retired Persons, have become influential and respected, in large part because of the number of votes they deliver at every election. Other groups have done the same thing.

If the poor want to have some say about their lives, they need to make sure their voices are heard - and the polling booth is a good place to start.