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Guest opinion by Senator Mike Crapo

â??Tis the season: billboards, yard signs, political ads on radio, television and the Internet all signal the political wrangling that accompanies mid-term elections. Admittedly, political ads can become tiresome or frustrating depending on the campaign, but given the alternativeâ??no right to choose our leadersâ??I can live with the sometimes outrageous debates that characterize our elections. The tone and substance of these messages also serve as a reminder that voters should be discerning and educate themselves about issues and candidates. In 2004, 64 percent of eligible U.S. voters turned out in the general election. This means that a little over one-third of potential voters abdicated one of the most precious (and unappreciated) rights we hold in this nation. Idahoâ??s voter turnout was the same as the national turnout; over one-third of those eligible did not vote. Although voting rates have increased overall, itâ??s disturbing that 35 percent of our nationâ??s citizens aged 18 and older chose not to have a voice at the polls. Itâ??s even more mystifying when you consider that Iraqis, by the millions, braved the threat of suicide bombers to stand in line to vote in January. This trend is mirrored elsewhere in young democracies where previously disenfranchised people now have the right to vote. They understand the oppression that results when the governed are voiceless. Some are frustrated with the blatant partisanship that grips our nation today and refuse to vote. I, too, am frustrated with the lack of comity in national politics. Still, I cannot surrender my right to vote; indeed, it makes me all the more anxious to cast my ballot.Voting is both the right and solemn responsibility of members of a free and democratic society. If we are going to criticize our leaders, then we must not fail to cast a vote to make a change. If we support our leaders, then we must not fail to cast a vote to keep the country progressing in ways we support. Not only should American citizens exercise their right to vote, they should do so with knowledge and awareness of issues and the candidates. Take some time to look beyond political ads splashed across the television and played on the radio. Be a discerning consumer of the media, bearing in mind that bias always exists. One of the best places to find out where a candidate stands on issues is to check their website, write or call the campaign. Take the opportunity to meet the individual in person. This November, Idahoâ??s ballot will feature a number of propositions. A great way to get general information about these initiatives is to read the 2006 Votersâ?? Pamphlet that was mailed to every household in Idaho in early October from the Idaho Secretary of Stateâ??s office. It is also available online. Casting votes in Idaho has become very easy. You can vote in person on Election Day. You can vote in person before Election Day at an absentee polling station, or you can vote absentee by mail. In compliance with the Help America Vote Act, ballot marking devices have been purchased for every polling station in the state. These machines assist elderly, vision-impaired and disabled voters. Our Founding Fathers followed by countless veterans of yesterday and today, sacrificed much to ensure our freedoms, one of which is the freedom to choose those who lead our communities, state and nation. Please donâ??t be too busy, too discouraged, too frustrated or, at the worst, too apathetic to vote this November. Our future--your future--depends on it. For information on voting in Idaho, please go to my website: WORD COUNT: 599