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By Philip Nelson

Now that Labor Day is in our rear view mirror, the finish line is in sight for the 2010 campaign and election season.

But there’s one critical landmark before that Nov. 2 Election Day—and that’s the deadline to register to vote. That deadline is Tuesday.

Voter turnout for mid-term elections is usually low. But this year, Illinois is electing a governor and a U.S. senator, as well as various other state and local officials, all of whom will impact our future.

You might be sick of politics. You might be sick of campaign commercials. It might make you sick that the last two governors elected in Illinois are convicted felons. You might be sick of the whole system.

And that sickness might keep you home on Election Day. However, that would be a critical mistake.

Why? Because in Illinois, voting has never been more important.

Our state is in a financial mess, as you’re surely aware. It’s not time to point fingers or assign blame — it’s time to get involved at the ballot box.

Whatever your party affiliation, find a candidate who not only supports positions you find important, but find one you think can get the job done.

“But what can I do?” you might ask yourself. “My vote won’t matter anyway.”

For too long in Illinois and across the nation, that kind of voter apathy has resulted in people getting elected — and in some cases, re-elected — to office whose interests are not solely based on what’s best for the people.

Your vote doesn’t count?

I would point to the closely contested 2000 presidential election, in which five states were decided by less than 1 percentage point. Florida — remember the hanging chads? — a state which had a population of about 16 million in 2000, was decided by 537 votes, or an astonishing 0.0092 percent.

More recently, this year’s Illinois primaries were pretty close, too. Gov. Pat Quinn won his Democratic primary by 8,087 votes, or 0.8 percent, while Republican nominee Bill Brady won by 420 votes, or 0.1 percent.

The third-place Republican was even within one percentage point in that party’s primary.

Said another way, the 2000 Florida vote was decided by about eight votes per county, and the 2010 Illinois Republican Primary was decided by about four votes per county.

Still think your vote doesn’t count?

If you look back a little further in your history books, you’ll find that American and world history were both made by a difference of just one vote. One vote kept Aaron Burr from becoming president. Thomas Jefferson was elected instead.

As part of our system of government, it’s always been the duty of an informed citizen to go to the polls. And, again, it’s never been more important.

I would encourage everyone to sign up to vote before Tuesday’s deadline, tune in and learn about the issues important to you and then turn out at the polls on Nov. 2. It’s really that simple.

Philip Nelson is president, Illinois Farm Bureau.

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