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We're in favor of citizen participation, and voting, especially in Oregon, is one of the easiest ways to do it.

FILE PHOTO - A voter drops off a ballot at a drive-by drop site in Portland in 2016.Hey, you! Yeah, you.

Have you voted?

If you're registered to vote, you should have received your ballot in the mail last week, or maybe the week before. You should have received a voters' pamphlet and candidate guide a week or two before that.

Once you have your ballot, voting is simple. All it takes is a black or blue pen, a postage stamp and a little bit of thought. If you can swing by an official ballot drop site — you can find a list of those in Washington County at that same link — you don't even need the stamp.

If you don't remember getting your ballot, but you're pretty sure you're registered to vote, you might want to check your stack of recent mail to see if the envelope from the Washington County Elections Division was hiding amid your junk mail, circulars and bank statements. Check your mailbox again, too. (If you're not sure you're registered to vote, you can check on the secretary of state's website.)

Marked ballots are due by 8 p.m. next Tuesday, Nov. 6. If you haven't mailed your ballot by Friday or so, you should probably find a drop site to make sure your vote counts. You can drop your ballot off at a site anywhere in Oregon, regardless of where you're registered to vote, and as long as it's in by 8 p.m. Tuesday and it's a valid ballot, state law says it must be counted.

If you have your ballot but you haven't decided whether to vote, consider last week's Mega Millions lottery drawing. Thousands upon thousands of Americans bought tickets. Maybe you were one of them. The odds were one in more than 300 million, but for thousands upon thousands of Americans, that was good enough to take a chance.

You might not believe it, but your voice matters. Four years ago in Forest Grove, the mayoral race was decided by 107 votes. The race for Senate District 15 was decided by 287 votes. If you think those are close, just last year in Virginia, a legislative race had to be decided by a coin flip; if either candidate had received just one more vote, they would have won outright. That race determined party control in the Virginia House of Delegates.

What's more, elections matter. You don't even have to look to the 2016 presidential election as an example of that. Last year, a slate of challengers dissatisfied with the direction of the school district were voted onto the Forest Grove school board; within the year, longtime Superintendent Yvonne Curtis resigned. Sen. Riley's election in 2014 gave Senate Democrats a "Betsy-proof" majority, meaning they could pass bills even if all Republicans and maverick Democratic Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose were opposed — and, with the assent of the Oregon House of Representatives, send them to a Democratic governor's desk to be signed into law.

It's true that in some races, there's not a lot of contrast. The three candidates running for two seats on the Cornelius City Council, by and large, are simpatico on the issues facing the growing city and their visions for the city government. But in perhaps the most important local election, for Washington County chairman, candidates Kathryn Harrington and Bob Terry could hardly be more different — and the outcome will determine whether Harrington leads a 3-2 majority of left-of-center county commissioners or Terry heads a continuing 3-2 conservative majority. Those two potential boards of the future will determine how Washington County works with the regional government Metro and neighboring counties, whether it lobbies the state for capital projects like the long-proposed Westside Bypass, what policies it adopts to address the issues of affordable housing and homelessness, and more.

There's not a lot of "abstracts" on this year's ballot. In the only federal race on the ballot in Washington County, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici is generally expected to cruise to re-election. The rest of the choices determine how our cities, county and state are governed, and what rules they will live by. One of those choices concerns whether all property-owners in the Metro area will pay a little more in taxes to fund more affordable housing projects. The saying that "all politics is local" is as true as it's ever been this year in northwestern Oregon.

So if your ballot envelope has been sitting untouched on the kitchen table, open it up and take a look. We've got our list of endorsements on page A7 as a reference guide, but you don't have to take our word for it. Do a little bit of research, even if it's just glancing through the voters' pamphlet or Googling a candidate's name. Talk with family members or neighbors, if you'd like. Be informed. And vote.

And one more thing: The rights of citizens to choose their own elected representatives is something that our forebears waged the Revolutionary War to give us. Today, around the world, people are fighting and dying for the right to petition, the right to organize and the right to vote.

In certain parts of the country, we are seeing elected officials cynically try to prevent people from voting, create barriers to ballot access, and rig legislative districts to favor a certain party over another. Onerous restrictions are imposed, many times disproportionately affecting certain demographics, such as college students, people in poverty and minority populations. Voter registrations are invalidated over clerical errors. Balloting sites are eliminated or moved to inconvenient locations, making it more difficult for people to go to the polls and cast their vote.

We are fortunate that in Oregon, our elected officials have wisely taken the opposite tack. Oregon was the first state, more than 20 years ago, to switch over to a vote-by-mail system that eliminates long lines at polling places, error-prone and difficult-to-use electronic voting machines, and the arbitrary number of days, times and places to vote. Three years ago, the state approved another groundbreaking change, making voter registration automatic for any adult citizen living in Oregon who gets or renews a driver's license. Secretary of State Dennis Richardson has explicitly rejected the sort of voter registration purges that have been carried out in other states — instead, last year, he doubled the number of years after not voting that a voter's registration remains active.

In Oregon, we have access, and in Oregon, in Washington County, in Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Cornelius, North Plains, Banks and Gaston, we have choices to make by 8 p.m. Tuesday.

You can make your first choice right now. You can choose to participate. You can choose to vote.


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