Election Day is almost upon us. On Nov. 6, those citizens who choose to vote have the opportunity to shape the future of our community, state and nation. Given the impact American policies have almost everywhere in the world, it is really no exaggeration to say that the voices of this country's voters are heard all over the planet.
The election of a new president is getting the most media attention, but there are many other decisions voters will make that will shape the future of the nation, our state and local communities.
Amazingly, many people choose not to vote. That poses a serious threat to our democratic system. American governmental institutions won't work as intended if citizens fail to express their preferences by voting.
Even in presidential elections, commentators deem a turnout ''great'' when as many as 70 percent of the eligible voters show up to cast a ballot. In off-year elections, it is not unusual for well over half those who could have voted to stay away from the polls.
Here in Iowa there are roughly 2 million registered voters. According to Mary Mosiman of the Iowa secretary of state's office, it is likely that between 20 and 30 percent of those Iowans who could vote in this year's election will fail to do so.
Many theories have been advanced to explain why people don't vote.
Some political scientists say one of the biggest reasons is that nonvoters claim the outcome of elections doesn't have an impact on their lives. It also is common for people who don't show up at the polls to justify their choice not to participate by arguing that their vote won't really matter because so many votes are cast.
If you are one of those who think that individual voters don't matter, it may be useful to reflect a bit on history.
In the 2000 presidential election, if a few more people had showed up to vote in Florida, George W. Bush might now be known primarily for his service as governor of Texas. In 1960, the presidential vote was so close that the outcome was decided by about one vote per precinct nationwide. Right here in Iowa, in the 1998 Democratic primary, Tom Vilsack won his party's nomination by less than two votes per precinct.
A few nonvoters could have altered subsequent history mightily.
More troubling is the belief some people hold that who wins will have no impact on them personally.
That notion may, in part, be the product of living in a country where democratic institutions have been the norm so long that people assume they always will be. The only guarantee that those institutions will survive, however, is citizen vigilance.
Over time, such nonparticipation undermines the legitimacy of the governmental system. It becomes hard to claim that officeholders reflect the will of the public when so many people had no role in their selection.
On Nov. 6 (or earlier if one makes use of Iowa's convenient early voting option), we all have the chance to demonstrate we understand that the right to vote is precious. To help our readers decide which of the candidates warrant their support, this issue of The Messenger includes our Election Guide 2012. Take the time to review its contents before casting your ballot.
Defend your democratic birthright by voting in this year's election.