USA Today, November 7, 2006

    Why your vote does, in fact, count

    By Bruce Kluger

    After a brutal year on the stump, today the candidates for
    national and state office hand over to voters a complicated job.
    As impossible as it may seem, Americans are asked to put aside
    the pyrotechnics of the 2006 campaign—the flash polls and
    attack ads, the rancor and recriminations—and somehow
    visualize the larger and more vivid picture.

    This isn't an easy assignment. For many, the campaign has been a highly personal
    affair, as strategists of all stripes continue to transform the electorate into a
    marketing map, targeting us as consumers, not citizens. This inevitably fosters
    anger and divisiveness among voters, qualities that can't help but cloud our
    judgment at the polls.

    And yet, the conversations that have arisen along the campaign trail have been
    uniquely fundamental to our democracy—reaching beyond the usual aridness of
    politics and policies to issues that many Americans carry in their hearts every day.
    This is why our participation in the 2006 vote is so crucial.

    To that end, it is important to remember that the hand that casts the ballot is the
    same hand that supports the arm of an ailing father, as he is gently eased from his
    wheelchair into a bed. None of us ever imagined that we would one day be looking
    after a parent this way, but for millions of Americans, this is now a sobering part of
    our lives. Is our nation helping to provide sufficient health care for families in need?

    The hand that casts the ballot is the same hand that rests softly beneath the head
    of an infant as we rock her to sleep. It is in these exquisite moments of solitude that
    our minds instinctively drift forward to our child's future—to her fulfillment, her
    security, her happiness. Has our nation committed to providing our kids with a full
    and decent education?

    The hand that casts the ballot is the same hand that opens the window each
    morning to let in the first ribbons of daylight. We share this ritual, whether we look
    out onto a backyard or a city street or a small stretch of beach. Is our nation doing
    everything it can to protect, and preserve, our environment?

    The hand that casts the ballot is the same hand that sends the fax, operates the
    forklift, harvests the crop, as our national workforce continues the building of this
    country. Is our nation paying an adequate wage for this hard and dedicated work?

    The hand that casts the ballot is the same hand that thumbs through the morning
    newspaper and its endless stories of violence—heartbreaking tales of random
    crimes and desperate acts that threaten to cripple a civilization that promises so
    much. Is our nation successfully keeping weapons out of the hands of those who
    would do us and our loved ones harm?

    The hand that casts the ballot is the same hand that creates a home, from brewing
    the morning coffee, to shopping for holiday gifts, to turning off the porch light at
    night. Are all Americans free to create a family, one that is able to enjoy the
    blessings of liberty and equality guaranteed by the nation's Founders?

    The hand that casts the ballot is the same hand that clasps the hand of another. It
    is this simple symbol—a handshake—that has throughout history signaled the end
    of conflict and the dawn of hope. Is America extending its hand to all nations of the
    world, along with its singular vision of freedom and humanity?

    Today when you vote, do so with a clear head and a full heart. Be grateful to be
    part of the most flourishing republic on earth, and mindful of your responsibility as
    one of its proud citizens.

    The choice, as it has always been, is in your hands.

    (Illustration by Sam Ward, USA TODAY)