10.01.2004 | Register to vote - even if you don't

It's been said many times, many ways, but really: you need to vote in this election. Even if you aren't planning on voting, register anyway just in case you change your mind. The deadline in is approaching fast in states around the country to make sure that you can get your vote counted on Election Day. Click here to get all the forms you need for your state.

If you aren't planning on voting, though, here are just three reasons you might want to consider the impact of this election on your future. This isn't exactly a non-partisan voting guide, but it is some of the most compelling reasons I can think of that you'd want to make sure you make your voice heard in this election.

1. Your Personal Freedom

At issue in this election are some pretty serious civil rights issues. While President Bush supports keeping the entire Patriot Act in place and expanding it, Kerry supports revising some of its more invasive parts.

Right now as it stands the government is allowed to spy on your book selections made at your library and bookstore, and your home can be searched without a warrant or your consent. The president also has the power to jail people, even American citizens, for an indefinite amount of time, without access to courts, lawyers or even family members.

The next president will also get to appoint more judges to the federal court system than any president in recent memory, and these judges have a direct impact on our rights because they interpret the laws that guarantee them. They have lifetime appointments, so their decisions will impact our lives for years to come.

A recent study found that so far, Bush has appointed judges who are more conservative than even Republican presidents of the past. Right now the judiciary is split roughly 50-50 liberal and conservative. The next president will probably tip the balance, especially since at least one Supreme Court justice is expected to retire in the next four years.

2. Your Tax Dollars

You may have heard talk about the federal deficit and think it doesn't apply to you. But it really does. From education funding (think student loans) to repair of our roadways and other domestic priorities, the growing national debt will limit our ability in the future to take care of our needs here at home - and abroad.

As our national debt gets bigger, so does the interest we have to pay on it. Most of our debt comes in the form of government bonds, which are mostly owned by wealthy and foreign investors. Neither candidate has a proposal that will completely pay down the national debt like Clinton almost did before he left office, but the difference in cost between the two candidates' spending proposals differ by $1 trillion: 1,000 billion dollars.

It might surprise you to know that Bush's proposals are more expensive over the long term, because they mean keeping in place the tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, which Kerry favors repealing.

3. The Environment

Everyone breathes air. You like air. Air that's clean, and doesn't make you cough or get sick. Asthma rates among children are higher than ever, and pregnant women have been warned against eating too much fish because of the mercury it contains. Both of these are direct consequences of the pollution streaming from the country's smokestacks.

Yet Bush has gutted environmental regulations, or at least tried. He has intervened on behalf of power companies to loosen requirements for modern, cleaner equipment for coal-fired power plants, and he has tried to change the definitions of regulations to render them useless.

Regarding the Clean Water Act, for example, he tried to make it so that it could only be enforced on large bodies of water, when most pollution comes from smaller tributaries. Kerry, meanwhile, has received the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters.

These are just three reasons you could decide to vote. There are many others, like foreign policy and job creation here at home, that could make even more of a difference on your personal life well after the election.

But here's where you come in: be an informed voter. Watch the upcoming presidential debates, the next one coming October 8th. Check the news headlines every now and then, whether it's CNN, Fox News or Yahoo.

Or better yet, all three - just having an overview of what happened will help you make a more informed decision, if not in this election then in the next one.

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