During the 2016 election, about 132 million people cast ballots for major political parties and third-party candidates.

About 100 million people opted out. They were eligible to vote but failed to show up on Election Day.

According to the Pew Research Center, the United States has the lowest voter turnout of any developed country — even with “record” turnout, we still trail nations like Belgium, where 89.3 percent of voters cast a ballot; or Sweden, where
85.1 percent of registered voters took advantage of their right to choose their leaders. Citizens in Denmark and Australia exercise their right to vote in higher numbers too, as do people in South Korea, the Netherlands and Israel.

Not here. Pew says U.S. voter turnout was around 56 percent in 2016. A nation that prides itself on its freedoms is neglecting to exercise one of the most basic of those rights: the right to choose who represents us at the local, state and national levels. And only about 70 percent of the people who are eligible to vote actually registered, meaning a minority is deciding our representatives.

It’s time to change that.

All politics are local. At every level, particularly the federal level, elected officials decide issues that affect every one of us. They decide policy; they determine the direction in which the nation will head. Failing to vote is refusing to hold up your end of the bargain as an American citizen, leaving the big decisions to someone else.

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The midterm election ballot is crowded — there are 13 separate state initiatives, school funding measures in five local districts. In Palmer Lake, they’re trying yet again to legalize recreational marijuana (third time’s a charm, maybe?) In Harrison School District, they’re hoping to pass a bond issue, as is Lewis-Palmer School District 38, which is also asking for a mill levy override.

There are issues to remove slavery from the Colorado Constitution (technically, it’s still legal to enslave someone who’s committed a crime here). There’s an effort to increase oil and gas setbacks, two transportation initiatives and a measure that increases income taxes for companies and people making above $150,000.

That’s in addition to the local, state and federal races to determine who will sit on the El Paso County Board of Commissioners, in the Colorado General Assembly and in Congress. Walker Stapleton is vying for the governor’s seat against Jared Polis. Doug Lamborn wants to keep his 5th Congressional District seat, while newcomer Stephany Rose Spaulding is hoping to go to Congress in his place.

Elections matter. Your vote matters. Voting isn’t just a right; it’s your responsibility. If you don’t vote, you lose your right to complain.

We know these things. And still, we don’t vote.

Business owners, make sure you allow employees time to vote — either by mail or in person. It’s their civic duty and too many decisions are made that affect businesses of all sizes without sufficient voter interest.

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