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Guest opinion by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

Last week, 22 states held political party presidential primaries. This historical event followed early primaries and caucuses in seven other states. Such events help states determine the delegates to send to the national political party conventions and the candidates those delegates support. The Internet and 24-hour news cycle have contributed to an increased awareness of our political process and issues of interest to voters. The fact that we are engaged in a war overseas has also heightened interest in the issues under consideration in Congress and actions taken by the Administration. Greater public policy awareness on the part of American voters is critical to the future of our nation, regardless of particular political persuasion or stand on issues.

However, complacency of the American electorate still plagues this country. Idahoans turned out in record numbers last week. But, in most of the country, many have lost the sense that their vote matters, and that we have a solemn duty to take part in the political process. How many of us would risk our lives to cast a vote? The images of Iraqi women with purple-stained fingers, raised in excitement over having a say in choosing leaders, is a far cry from some Americans who vote only if it fits their schedule that day, or if they remember. It's easier than ever to educate ourselves about what candidates stand for, and I'm proud that Idahoans took full advantage of those opportunities. We can listen to or read analyses of many candidates from all points of view. The Internet and instantaneous, personal communications of today's world have facilitated a national conversation and debate about issues and candidates, one that is unprecedented in history. The broad scope of information sources requires us to be critical consumers, but there is plenty to consider as we evaluate the candidates.

In a nation of 300 million people, it's easy to falsely believe that our single vote doesn't matter. That is simply not true. American citizens who are at least 18 years old have been granted a legal right to participate in the selection of our leaders. They have the privilege, guaranteed and protected by law, to choose the leaders of the free world, today the most powerful nation on the earth. This is not only a precious right-it's an awesome responsibility that should never be taken lightly.

In the wake of Super Tuesday, and as Idaho's May primaries approach, consider this grave charge. Take time to educate yourself about the issues and candidates. I encourage you to go beyond easily-digestible, highly-simplified campaign ads; take a look at the candidates and weigh that with what they say and what others say about them. I, like many Idahoans, dislike negative campaigning. Many Americans are fed up with negative campaigning and partisan politics.  It's my hope that, in this election year, Congress and the candidates for Congress and the Presidency will be able to focus on the issues in an intelligent manner, using the strengths of public discourse to clarify what they stand for so voters can make informed decisions. If so, in the process of our 2008 elections, we will choose the candidates desired by a majority of American voters. This is democracy in action. It is what we promote overseas and it is what keeps this nation strong and free.