There should be no debate about the importance of voting in Tuesday's general election. Given the stakes, it's unimaginable that anyone eligible to vote would let that opportunity pass.
Inevitably, some will. In 2000, 18 percent of those registered to vote in Routt County chose not to participate in the closest presidential election in modern history. Voter turnout was lower in succeeding elections that did not involve a presidential race.
Fortunately, indications are that turnout Tuesday could be the highest in history, nationwide and in Routt County. New voters have registered in record numbers, absentee ballot requests are at an all-time high, and early voting numbers have been eye opening. In Routt County, the record for early voting was shattered by the middle of last week and by the end of Friday, more than 4,000 people, almost one-third of the county's active registered voters, already had cast ballots. That's an increase of more than 50 percent from the 2000 election.
Given that many elections have been decided by fewer than 50 percent of registered voters, such numbers are encouraging. Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland is hoping for a 95 percent turnout. That would be appropriate, considering what's at stake Tuesday in our corner of the world. Some examples:
n Colorado is one of 11 states whose electoral votes are still up for grabs. Polls show the race has tightened in the past week and that it is too close to call. And, depending on what the state's voters decide on Amendment 36, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry could get anywhere from zero to nine electoral votes.
n With the retirement of Sen. Ben "Nighthorse" Campbell and U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, voters in Congressional District 3 will select a new senator and a new congressman. A Senate or congressional race that does not involve an incumbent is rare; having both on the ballot with a presidential race is an election-year "perfect storm." Polls show these races could go either way.
n Two of Routt County's own -- Republican State Sen. Jack Taylor and Democrat Jay Fetcher -- are locked in a tight battle for the state Senate District 8 seat. Though most of the votes in Senate District 8 are along Interstate 70, this election very well could come down to how Routt County swings.
Some may not share our enthusiasm for this election. We suspect many -- weary of the steady stream of political phone calls, e-mails, direct mailings and radio and TV commercials -- are simply relieved the election is almost over. We agree that the most disappointing part of this election cycle is that, with an audience engaged like never before, so much time and money has been spent disparaging candidates instead of fostering substantive debate.
Still, it's the responsibility of the voters to wade through the noise and discover the individuals and the issues for which they stand, from the choices for president down the ballot through the candidates for county commissioner. We're thrilled to see so many taking that responsibility seriously this year and would encourage any voter thinking of sitting this election out to reconsider that decision.
Potentially, the success of the 2004 election will not be determined by the outcome of any particular race, but by record turnout -- in Routt County, Colorado and nationwide. Voting is the foundation of our democracy. Help strengthen that foundation by casting a ballot Tuesday, if you have not done so already.