Assuming you don’t live under a rock, you’re aware that next Tuesday is kind of a big deal. I don’t know about you, but I’m so ready for our street corners to be free of flimsy political signs and for Facebook to return to less hostile territory. While most of the talk has been focused on our nation’s next leader, it’s important to remember that local and regional candidates can have just as much of an impact, if not more so, on the livelihood of our communities. While you may be skeptical of your vote’s worth, know that local elections have been won by as few as five votes in recent past! (Chad Crumbaker wrote an excellent article earlier this spring about the importance of local voting.) In fact, it was one vote that brought Texas into the Union (1845), gave Rutherford Hayes the presidency (1876) and passed the Selective Service Act (1939).

Here are a few tips to help you rock the vote next week:

Do your research

The more you know about the candidates, the easier it will be to choose the one who best represents your point of view. You can find a list of candidates running in the general election in Wood County, and look up a sample ballot for Washington County. Spend a few hours looking up candidates’ experience and stance on particular issues.

Make sure you are registered

You can call your city’s clerk or verify by calling 1-866-OUR-VOTE. If you are not registered, you cannot vote.

Know where your polling location is

Your location will be printed on your voting card – remember that it may have changed since the last time you voted. Leave yourself plenty of time, as lines will likely be long, especially during 7-8am, the lunch hour, and after 5pm. For Washington County, you can look up your polling location here. For Wood County, you can look up your polling location here.

Remember your ID

Be sure you have a valid ID, passport and/or driver’s license when you go to vote. Check with state requirements to find out what types of ID are required for you to vote in your state. If you’re not sure, bring it all – including a photo ID.

Help others to vote

If you’ve got extra room in your vehicle, consider starting a carpool from work, or assisting the elderly, disabled and those without transportation.

Keep it civil

Despite the animosity you see on TV (and Facebook), this is not the way to act. Be respectful of those voting for another candidate – we are all entitled to exercise our right to vote.

Stick it out

Even if it gets late and the polls will close soon, if you are standing in line, you will get to vote – so make sure you at least have time to make it to that voter line. If the poll workers have trouble finding your name, insist that they check again. If that still fails, you can request permission to cast a provisional ballot.

While every vote counts, the right to vote is just that – a right. It’s not necessarily a duty, and it’s not our intention to shame others into exercising that right. Casting a ballot is a way to make your voice heard – but it is only effective if you vote for candidates that represent your points of view. If you cast a vote based on name recognition, outside pressures, or family ties, your vote is not necessarily representing your voice – it may in fact do the exact opposite. There is nothing virtuous or patriotic about voting just for the sake of voting. As Mike Rowe recently reminded America, our right to vote as spelled out in our Constitution, was not included so that people could cast uninformed ballots out of some misplaced sense of civic duty – rather, it was included to help assure that the best ideas and the best candidates would emerge from the most transparent process possible. So let’s make our founding fathers proud and strive to make a real difference next Tuesday!