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I've voted in dozens of elections in my life. I've trudged through rotten weather in Chicago and Durham to drop my ballot, that symbol of democracy, into the box. I've done it for candidates I was sure would lose (and they did). I've done it for candidates I thought would change the country (and they didn't). Over the years, I've had this growing sense of being had. Does my vote mean anything? Is this really a viable democracy, or is our trust in democracy similar to our trust in religion, based on faith rather than real evidence?

Let's add it up and see what kind of total answer we get.

Voter suppression and ballot manipulation are proven realities that can swing close elections.

We know a partisan Supreme Court can refuse to give us an honest count.

We all know about the incredible influx of lobbyists and their special-interest money.Do we really think our $100 contribution gives us the same access and influence as $100,000? The courts consider this freedom of speech. Ironic, isn't it? It's hardly free.

Congressional districts are gerrymandered to the point where fail-safe districts protect incumbents. In 2004, five seats out of 401 were won by challengers, a 99 percent reelection rate.

The amount of money it takes to win elections continues to grow exponentially; incumbents outspend challengers big time (may the best-financed man or woman win).

While we have truth-in-advertising laws, we allow lies and half-truths to dominate the TV political commercials without any oversight.

Corruption in government: Abramoff, Ney, DeLay--how many more do we not know about?

Our two failed political parties have a duopoly that precludes any participation by third parties with repressive electoral laws disenfranchising large numbers of voters.

Only slightly more than half of eligible voters vote. For young people, it's closer to a third. Are the smart ones staying home? European democracies bring out up to 20 percent more voters--and we're supposed to be the democracy.

This is the democracy we vote for in election after election? Politicos and pundits are fond of the clichéd response: "Well, it may not be perfect, but it's the best system around." When does imperfect become intolerable?

Am I going to vote in this election? Yeah, I'm going to vote. But not because I don't understand what I'm up against. Because I believe in doing my civic duty; because I believe in the ideal of democracy even if the reality may be fatally flawed; and because if I'm not going to let the bastards stop me from trying to make democracy happen.

Let's hope the weather is good and the line isn't too long.

Early voting is happening now around the Triangle. For the Indy's guide to local races, and to read candidates' answers to our questionnaires, see the Elections section of our Web site.

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