Vote!

Allow me to be earnest for a moment: You really, really should go vote tomorrow. There are going to be some seriously long lines. Get there as early as you can. ItâÄôs too bad that Minnesota doesnâÄôt have full-fledged early voting to help cut down on the waiting, but weâÄôll have to make do. Bring a book âÄî maybe even one for a class, if youâÄôre feeling particularly studious. Elections actually do matter, after all. Occasionally, you hear something along the lines of, âÄúThis is the most important election of the decade/century/entirety of time.âÄù That misses the point: All elections, especially those involving a presidential campaign, are really important. If weâÄôre serious about a government of, by and for the people, then the people need to actually get out and vote. This is especially true for those of us younger than 25. I happen to think that the two major-party presidential candidates provide us with two pretty different choices, to the point that itâÄôs worth picking one over the other. And even if you disagree and think both of them are corporate stooges, you need to register that displeasure: Vote for Ralph Nader or Ron Paul or your grandmother. (GrandmaâÄôs platform: cookies!) Either party would be fine with winning a low-turnout election. But if a significant chunk of the electorate started showing up and casting ballots for someone else, it would get the partiesâÄô attention. But there doesnâÄôt seem to be much of a third-party push this year. After all, John McCain and Barack Obama offer some pretty contrasting policy options. Think them over, decide which one you prefer and then actually go act on that choice. Whatever you do, donâÄôt take it for granted. A democracy is a rather nice thing to have, all else being equal. And for all its flaws (an archaic Electoral College system, malfunctioning voting machines, attempts to suppress turnout and so forth), ours still runs pretty smoothly. We get a peaceful transfer of power out of the deal, and we get the chance to regularly decide whether we like the direction the country is headed. All we have to do is bother to show up and cast a ballot. Not too shabby. And we, as the younger chunk of the electorate, have a particularly high stake in tomorrowâÄôs decision. WeâÄôll be living here longer than the older age groups, so it wouldnâÄôt be a bad idea for us to steer the country onto a path we prefer. WeâÄôre the segment of the population who will be (or already is) hunting for jobs, fighting wars and paying the bills for it all later on. The youth vote doesnâÄôt have a great track record of high turnout, to put it kindly. And itâÄôs no mistake that issues most important to the college-age crowd get constantly pushed to the back burner; politicians look out for their own electoral interests. If weâÄôre not willing to stand up and punish inattentive office-holders, theyâÄôll continue to ignore us. DonâÄôt blame the politicians, just do something about it. Voting tomorrow is a pretty good place to start. It wonâÄôt happen overnight, but if young people can start to pile up a respectable turnout record, we could actually begin to see some politicians taking our concerns seriously. This election might not be any more or less important than any other, but the next president is still going to have a lot on his plate: two wars, a tanking economy, a health care system ready to bankrupt us, a planet running a fever. The way we respond âÄî or fail to respond âÄî will have long-lasting consequences. Whatever choice we make tomorrow, it would be nice to know that everyone stood up and made their voices heard. The bigger the turnout, the more able the next government will be to respond to our problems decisively. ItâÄôs easier to govern when a clear majority of the population has spoken. And thatâÄôs to say nothing of the down-ballot races. WeâÄôve got an extremely important senate contest on our hands this year: The Democratic party will be getting very close to a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the upper chamber, so Minnesotans have the privilege of helping to decide whether that happens. If you think the Democratic platform is a good one, Al FrankenâÄôs vote in the Senate will be vital. If youâÄôre more interested in diverse government, then a vote for Sen. Norm Coleman will go a long way toward that end. Unlike the presidential race in this state, the Franken and Coleman contest is going to be extremely close, so each marginal vote will have a lot of power either way. Take advantage of that, and make yourself heard. And, of course, all of those other choices on your ballot matter, too. These campaigns, especially on the presidential level, have been going on for a long time. It can be easy to get fed up and tune out or to get overly wrapped-up in the minutiae and lose sight of the big picture. In either case, now is the time to snap out of it. Starting Wednesday, you wonâÄôt be seeing any more campaign commercials or getting any more annoying phone calls or having people corner you with clipboards while you walk across campus. It would be a shame to put up with all of that for so long and not even take advantage of the payoff at the end: a chance to vote. So get out there and vote. The polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., but if youâÄôre still waiting in line when the polls close, you still get to vote. So bring a friend or 12, accept the fact that you may have to wait around a bit, and remind yourself why all of this matters. It would be a shame to regret skipping out because you were feeling a bit lazy or didnâÄôt feel like standing in line. And youâÄôll get a really cool sticker when you finish. If nothing else, that should be reason enough. Who doesnâÄôt love stickers? John Sharkey welcomes comments at [email protected]