Primary Election Day is almost upon us. On Tuesday, those citizens who choose to vote have the opportunity to shape the future of not only their party, but our community, state and nation as well.
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 60 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. Primaries often fall well behind that disappointing level of participation.
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.
This week, we all have the chance to demonstrate we understand that the right to vote is precious.
Defend your democratic birthright by voting Tuesday.