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My primary ballot arrived a couple of weeks ago, and it was a pretty lonely affair, as it tends to be if you’re not affiliated with any political party.

Nevertheless, because I’m hard-wired this way, I voted in each of the seven nonpartisan races on the ballot, each unopposed (you’re welcome, Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson), and dutifully returned the document, signed and sealed, to one of the ballot drop-off boxes. It does seem a shame that these judicial races don’t attract more candidates, but that’s a topic for another column.

This has been a trying election indeed for those of us who proudly wave the flag of nonaffiliation, with all the tempting come-ons to switch our voting registration in order to participate in a major party’s primary election. Maybe you were lured by the siren song, so rarely heard in Oregon, that the state might make an actual difference in the presidential primary battles, That was so last week. Of course, you Democrats might still be thinking that, hey, a vote for Bernie Sanders will send a message to the party. If that’s what you need to tell yourself to pull out the ballot and vote, your secret is safe with me.

In any event, statistics I’ve looked at for the first four months of this year suggest that nearly 89,000 previously nonaffiliated Oregon voters have switched parties. Most of them (about 65,000 or so) have signed up as Democrats. About 20,000 or so have aligned with the Republicans. About 2,600 or so have signed up with the state’s third major party, the Independent Party. (Somewhat interestingly, about 4,800 voters so far this year have ditched their party affiliation and now proudly call themselves nonaffiliated. Now, if only someone could emerge to harness the power of nonaffiliation into a potent political force.)

Actually, as odd as that sounds, it could prove to be an important factor in November’s general election. Once the primary is behind us, we’re all nonaffiliated voters to some extent. Successful campaigns may well be the ones that figure out the most effective ways to reach out to voters who don’t consider themselves aligned with a major party.

That won’t be the only wild card this November. This will be the state’s first general election to involve tens of thousands of new voters, added to the rolls through Oregon’s motor-voter legislation. A candidate who figures out how to appeal to those new voters may well enjoy a big advantage in the election. Of course, that may prove to be more difficult than it sounds, seeing how those new additions to the voter rolls obviously are not among the most motivated voters in the state.

But all those questions await a few months ahead in the future. In the meantime, chances are pretty good that you haven’t taken the time yet to vote, and who could blame you? Some of the air has been let out of this particular balloon over the last week or so. It certainly seemed as if this primary was going to be more fun than it’s turned out to be, and that’s always distressing for those of us who think that, on some level, voting is fun.

But part of the reason why you should vote in these sorts of elections is to keep the flame alive for the next one. Maybe that next one will be the election with well-fought races that go down to the wire, the one that engages and energizes the population. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s not: The vote you cast in this election says something important about the next one, and all the ones after that. (mm)

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Mike McInally is the editor of the Albany Democrat-Herald and the Corvallis Gazette-Times.