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Editorial: Make NC’s voice heard

The national spotlight will be on this state Tuesday to see which Democrat North Carolinians prefer as a presidential candidate. Don’t let low voter turnout become part of the story. Make a point of casting your ballot on Tuesday.
This is a rare opportunity. Not in recent memory has a presidential nomination remained in question as late as May. Instead of being left out of the selection process with its late primary, North Carolina has become a key player in the closing minutes, evidenced by the candidates’ frequent visits here in the past month. The current President Bush never visited Rowan County as a candidate or a president. He didn’t have to. He was a shoo-in. But both former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton have taken the microphone at the Salisbury Station in recent weeks to tout her qualifications for office. Sen. Barack Obama has spoken nearby in Winston-Salem and elsewhere in the state. You can’t blame local Democrats for having stars in their eyes this spring. Finally, their votes count on the national scene.
Republicans will want to go to the polls, too, even if John McCain has wrapped up the GOP’s presidential nomination. Important state and local offices are up for election this year, and the choices voters make in the primaries could well determine whether their party is victorious this fall. If you care about who’s in the Governor’s Mansion or what the county commissioners do, you’ll want to vote Tuesday whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or unaffiliated.
In fact, those unaffiliated voters ó about a fifth of North Carolina’s voters ó have become a political force. While interest in the presidential race has drawn thousands more to register to vote this year, it has also brought about shifts in party loyalty. By March, about 12,600 N.C. voters had switched from Republican to unaffiliated or to Democrat since January, and the number continued to grow. About 6,000 switched to the GOP. But the real news here is the power of the unaffiliated vote. Nearly all people say they vote “for the man, not the party,” but unaffiliated voters demonstrate that by not registering with either party. You can be disenchanted with the GOP and the Democratic Party ó or party politics in general ó and still make a difference at the ballot box as an unaffiliated voter. Unaffiliated voters choose which primary to vote in when they go to the polls Tuesday. In the event of a runoff, they must stick to the same party for that vote.
Every vote counts. From town board elections to the 2000 presidential race, voters have seen how hair-thin victory margins can be. These are the days of recounts, not landslides. Be sure to vote where you’re supposed to and go by the book when casting your ballot to ensure your voice is heard. It will matter ó in the presidential race, the gubernatorial race and the race for county commissioner. And several races in between. This is one day when the only people who are powerless are the ones who don’t take the time to vote.

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