In Our View: Today is Day to Vote, or Not

American tradition means different thing to different folks \u2014 and that\u2019s their right

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Today is election day, which, in that grand American tradition, means different things to different people. For some, it is a sacred opportunity to express their opinions and philosophies about how our communities should be governed. For others, it simply is another Tuesday.

Either way, the chance to vote your conscience — or to not vote at all — is one of the things that makes this nation an extraordinary experiment in representative democracy. In The Columbian's opinion, too many citizens will treat this as just another Tuesday and will spend more time enjoying the sunshine than they will pondering their votes (ballots, which were mailed weeks ago, are due by 8 p.m. tonight). In 2010, the last time there was a midterm primary, 39 percent of registered voters in Clark County bothered to vote. We hope that a higher percentage of local residents have become informed and will make their voices heard in this year's primary, but we recognize that the right to not vote is just as important to our system as the opportunity to cast a ballot. As Thomas Jefferson reportedly said, "A nation's best defense is an educated citizenry."

That is a hallmark of the American system. The United States is not, for example, the Iraq that existed under Saddam Hussein. In 2002, according to official government statistics, exactly 100 percent of the 11,445,638 registered Iraqi voters participated in their presidential election, and exactly 100 percent voted to approve another seven-year term for Hussein. What were the odds of that happening? As author Gene Sharp once wrote, "Dictators are not in the business of allowing elections that could remove them from their thrones."

In this country, our 225-year-old system of governance guards against dictators. This is not a presidential election year, but all 435 seats in the House of Representatives are on ballots across the country, along with 33 seats in the United States Senate. Republicans will be attempting to hang onto their majority in the House while holding out hopes for taking control of the Senate. Locally, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, is facing challengers Michael Delavar, R-Washougal, and Bob Dingethal, D-Ridgefield, in the primary. The top two vote-getters will advance to the November general election, where voters will determine who represents Washington's 3rd Congressional District.

While the congressional contest is the marquee matchup on this year's ballot in Clark County, other compelling races also appear on the primary list. Four strong candidates are in the running to replace Clark County Sheriff Garry Lucas, who is retiring after 24 years in office, and four state representative positions are being contested by virtue of having at least three candidates. Other spots for the state Legislature, those which feature only two candidates, will be contested in the November general election, along with a county commissioner position. For information about the candidates, including videos of meetings with The Columbian's Editorial Board and The Columbian's recommendations for the races, visit www.columbian.com/news/opinion/endorsements.

With that, our work is done. Now it is up to the electorate to express their opinion and set the stage for the November election. It is an egalitarian opportunity the citizens of this country must continue to cherish and protect. To quote Jefferson again: "I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom."