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By Senator Mike Crapo

In January, Time Magazine proclaimed 2008 the "Year of the Youth Vote." I would expand on that theme and say that 2008 is the "Year of the Voter." We are in the home stretch of an historic Presidential election, a highly-charged Congressional election cycle and many state and local races as well. People who have never been particularly interested in politics are tuning in to the news coverage of the campaigns and the candidates, and voters are taking an active interest in the issues on our national agenda. Energy, the economy, healthcare, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other concerns are on the minds of millions of America this year. When you consider the political powerlessness of millions living under autocratic regimes across the world, American voters can truly celebrate the fact that we are essential participants in representative government.

The right to voice our opinions by casting our vote is protected by the Constitution. Our nation was founded on the notion of government of the people by the people, and voting for those who represent us at federal, state and local levels of government is the way in which we preserve our democratic republic. Voluntarily abdicating the right to vote can signal a protest, but it also comes at a price. Not voting simply because of a hectic schedule plays fast and loose with a right that many in our world would love to have guaranteed (remember the Iraqis who have risked life and limb to cast votes in elections). Casting a vote, even when it seems pointless or a hassle, still registers your voice in our country.

Most Idaho communities have well-established voter resources including voting locations, hours and candidate information. (The Internet can provide information on candidates and their positions, although it's a good idea to make sure that the source you use is credible to the best of your knowledge.) Members of the military and U.S. citizens who live abroad are eligible to register and vote absentee in federal elections under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986. It is administered by the Secretary of Defense, who delegates that responsibility to the Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) at the DOD. However, the actual electronic transmission of official election materials is governed by state laws. The good news is that Idaho is very progressive and attuned to the specific needs of overseas voters and the difficulties, especially for military members and their families, of voting and getting those votes counted. Idaho permits the military and overseas voters to email the Federal Post Card Application (voter registration and absentee ballot request form) for absentee ballot requests. If mailed, the ballots must be postmarked by October 10, which is 25 days prior to the general election. Idaho also permits faxing of voted ballots in certain emergency situations. (Also, on September 8, the Department of Veterans Affairs lifted its ban on voter registration drives at federally-run nursing homes, shelters for the homeless and rehabilitation centers across the country. Now, more veterans will be able to cast their votes.)

Please exercise your right to vote this fall. You have the opportunity to play a role what our nation will stand for over the next few years. The more active participants we have in this election, the more representative and effective our government will be. The health of our democracy depends upon it.