Voting in this year’s races carries added importance

Most U.S. citizens 18 or older have a right to vote and help forge our nation’s future. Any eligible person who wishes to vote in the March 3 Democratic and Republican party primaries must be registered by Feb. 3 to do so. Every vote is important, but this year is especially critical for people to make their preferences known.

Yes, we hear that argument all the time. Officials and others who are invested in the political game tend to be hyperbolic. It seems that every election is the most important in our nation’s history, with the very future of our country at stake. Our republic has survived civil war, world wars, social unrest, terrorist attacks and even presidential assassinations. And we’ve survived. Our votes this year will neither save nor destroy us.

But voting is important in this country. The people have a say in how we are governed — if we so choose. We select our government officials from our own ranks, and we can vote them in or out if we approve or disapprove of their proposals and their performance.

This year, however, our votes do carry more weight than normal. The president is on the ballot, as are all U.S. and state House seats and one-third of the Senate. For three years we have endured stark divisions in our country over the president’s actions and statements and his impeachment trial has begun, but voters finally will be able to show the true scope of his public approval or disapproval, beyond the loud protesters and advocates who make the news. We can vote to keep or replace him.

Likewise, the people whom voters send to Washington next January will determine the amount of support or opposition the president — whoever that person is — will receive, and ultimately how much real power the president will have. As we have seen in recent years, the congressional makeup affects the fate of legislation and determines who sits on our federal courts.

State officials make similar decisions at a more local level. This year, however, our votes will carry additional weight, since those we elect will draw up the post-census political districts for Congress and the state legislature. How they are drawn often determines whether the people elected in those districts are Democrat or Republican.

We have long been told that our government has three branches that apply checks and balances on each other. In practice there actually are five.

In additional to the administrative, legislative and judicial branches we have the states which, until passage of the 17th Amendment, chose our senators and 17th Amendment chose our senators. And the district maps they draw and approve can determine the strength of each political party in the state for the next decade or even more.

And the fifth branch, and perhaps most important, is the electorate. The people can show their approval or disapproval by voting people in or out of office and steer our nation’s overall policies toward liberal or conservative ends.

The power of the people is great — if the people choose to use it. Let us all show our appreciation for that power, and pledge to use it this year.