This Tuesday, I'll vote in a presidential primary for the first time.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that.
I've had five other chances to vote in a primary, and, for a variety of reasons, I didn't.
This year is different. The stakes are high, the choices are good, and the New York primary might actually make a difference.
In fact, Super Tuesday has never been so super. This Tuesday, voters in more than 20 states "" twice as many as in 2004 "" will cast ballots in primaries and caucuses. Because so many states, including New York, moved up their primaries with the goal of having a greater influence on the election, Super Tuesday is also happening earlier than usual, so it matters more. This is especially true when there's not only no incumbent, but also no definitive front-runner in either of the major parties.
Primary voting doesn't get more exciting or important than this.
There are lots of reasons why I've never voted in a presidential primary.
The system we use to elect a president is complicated, and that's intimidating.
It's hard enough to understand how the Electoral College works, and, with different rules for each party and each state, the primaries are even more complex. How many people know the difference between caucuses and primaries? Proportional and winner-takes-all representation? Superdelegates and regular delegates?
My vote won't make a difference.
This may have actually been true, in cases such as the 2000 presidential election, when the New York primary was held late enough not to matter much. By the time New York held its primaries on March 7, George W. Bush and Al Gore were already well on their way toward securing the nominations of their respective parties.
I don't like any of the choices.
In the 2004 election, I knew one thing: I wanted to see a new president in the White House. But I wasn't excited about any of the alternatives, and I had doubts about whether any of them could win.
I don't know enough about the candidates to make an educated decision.
That's how I felt as a brand-new voter in 1988, and again in 1992. I trusted the party leaders to select the candidate who was best suited for the job and most likely to win.
This year is different. The presidential election matters more to me than ever before. I'm more dissatisfied with the status quo and concerned about the future than ever before.
There are a lot of issues on my mind: the rising cost of health care and fuel and every item I buy at the grocery store; our nation's growing debt, trade deficit and dependence on oil; global warming; homeland security; the war in Iraq; immigration; education; and the growing gap between the rich and the poor, to name a few.
I've finally realized that you don't have to be a political science professor or a League of Women Voters member or even a political news junkie to make an informed choice, and you don't have to fully understand the intricacies of our political system to participate in it.
All you really have to do is take some time to find out about the candidates. I wouldn't want to base my decision on a TV commercial or a newspaper headline or an endorsement or who looks most "presidential."
I've watched two of the debates, read numerous articles on the election and visited several candidates' websites to find out why they want to be president and where they stand on the issues that matter to me.
This time, there is a candidate I'm excited about, and I don't care that the party leaders know more than I do. I know enough. I know I want change, and I still have enough faith in our political system to believe change starts at the polls.
I know I'm not alone. If you're a registered Democrat or Republican, don't sit on the sidelines on Super Tuesday. Get informed, make a choice and exercise your right to vote. If you don't, you'll have no right to complain _ or celebrate _ when the winner is announced in November.
Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.