Usually at this time of year we publish an exhortation to vote.

This year is no different. This is it. But there’s an extra element in play in 2020.

We have been doing our duty as a newspaper, interviewing the candidates for local and regional offices and reporting our findings.

We always take that responsibility seriously. It is a key role that independent news outlets like ours should play in our democracy.

In this pandemic year, those duties have become even more important because there have been way, way fewer opportunities for personal exposure to those running for office. Candidates trekking door to door interacting with voters would have been nothing short of foolhardy because of the coronavirus. And large in-person public candidate forums likely would have spread the virus further around our region.

So we have done our duty.

But now it is your turn to act.

Voter turnout in presidential election years is inevitably the highest in the four-year election cycle. The amount of attention focused on who will be the leader of our nation for the next the four years is warranted. It’s a tough job to fill. And it is a tough job to perform well. We need the best possible applicant for the job.

But turnout trends are still not anything to applaud.

Look at what happened last time. Turnout among the nation’s 230 million potential voters was appalling. And that’s what really concerns us most. In 2016, a huge proportion of eligible voters did not vote. Many were not even registered.

One website analyzing the trends had the catchy but accurate headline: “If ‘Did Not Vote’ had been a candidate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it would have won by a landslide.”

That really is extraordinary. And it is so sad.

Don’t sit on the sidelines

The argument over the popular vote vs. the Electoral College is for another day. Hillary Clinton won the first and Donald Trump won the second. That matters less right now than the dire statistic that 44% of the potentially eligible electorate did not cast their ballots. Millions of people did not participate and millions did not even register. It meant, inevitably, that whoever won would never be able to claim a clear mandate. The implications of that further divided our nation in ways we could barely have imagined.

We must not let that happen again.

The registration deadline in Washington is Oct. 26, and we strongly recommend people don’t wait until the last minute to sign up to make their voice heard.

For those who are already registered, voting is a simple process. Washington’s vote-by-mail system is secure and easy. It is the envy of the nation. It takes less than half an hour to look through the ballot, mark your preferred candidates, then seal the envelope. Postmarks do count in Washington, but why wait until the last minute?

Lots more than Trump v. Biden

Those who have already opened and studied their ballots will have noticed there’s a whole lot more to be decided. It’s not just whether Donald Trump should have four more years at the helm or whether Joe Biden should replace him and give today’s crises a fresh look.

So-called “down-ballot” races often have as much impact on our daily lives as who will be making speeches and being interviewed on national TV for the next four years. You will be voting to select the people who will make decisions on what direction your community takes — as well as matters that affect your pocketbook.

Around Washington that means we are selecting our House member in Congress, plus determining winners in the top state offices, including governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, commissioner of pubic lands, superintendent of public instruction and insurance commissioner. Two of the four state supreme court seats on this year’s ballot are contested.

Voters will examine six state measures. They cover sex education and changing investment rules for state funds, plus four advisory votes on retail bag charges, taxes on equipment rentals, and two changes in the business and occupation tax rates for companies and aircraft builders.

For the state Legislature, voters in District 19 will be selecting our state senator and two state representatives.

Two of the three Pacific County commissioners’ seats are on the ballot and so is one Public Utility District position.

We would love to report Nov. 4 that Pacific County’s turnout was 100%. Everyone voted! It sure would make a great headline, wouldn’t it?

Of course, some factors will mean that may never happen. But it is a goal to strive for.

One adult, one vote. It is a true fundamental for democracy to continue to flourish in our fine nation.

Whatever happens Nov. 3, all will be well if every person reading this casts his or her vote on these important races.

It is a right that should be exercised.

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