The right to vote is an important one to exercise. It is a way of having a say in governmental actions that will affect your life in many ways. The act of voting is your opportunity for choosing the person who most resembles your own belief system. Regardless of the outcome, your vote sends a message, letting politicians know what is important to you. It is one of the few times in life where it does not matter who you know or what you know; it is a simple matter of utilizing your one vote that every adult is granted.

A primary election is the preliminary step in the process of electing a candidate running for office in the United States. Many other countries follow different systems, but primaries are often held in the U.S. to see who will receive the nomination from his or her political party during the convention. The candidate who receives the nomination will run against the candidate nominated by the other party — or parties, as the case may be. Many voters don’t seem to realize that the primary is one of the most important phases of an election. This is when each vote counts the most, because it gives people the ability to decide who the best candidate is. Unfortunately, many people skip the primary election and only vote in the general election, many of them complaining that their party’s candidate is not the one they would have chosen. People who take their vote seriously need to find out when the primary is held in their state so they have a voice in selecting the candidate.

First, primary election campaigns are the main way voters get to know about all the candidates. After the national conventions, voters hear mainly about the platforms of exactly two candidates -- one Republican and one Democrat. During the primaries, however, voters get to hear from several Republican and Democratic candidates, plus the candidates of third parties. As media coverage focuses on the voters of each state during primary season, all the candidates are more likely to get some coverage. The primaries provide a nationwide stage for the free and open exchange of all ideas and opinions -- the foundation of the American form of participatory democracy.

Secondly, the primaries play a key role in shaping the final platforms of the major candidates in the November election. Let's say a weaker candidate drops out of the race during the final weeks of the primaries. If that candidate succeeded in winning a substantial number of votes during the primaries, there is a very good chance that some aspects of his or her platform will be adopted by the party's chosen presidential candidate.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the primary elections provide yet another avenue though which Americans can take part in the process of choosing our own leaders. The interest generated by the presidential primaries moves many first-time voters to register and go to the polls. While some states have dropped their presidential primary elections due to cost or other factors, the primaries continue to be a vital and important part of America's democratic process.

Every state is different in how it holds its primaries and determines voter eligibility, but these mini-races give major political parties a good read on who's their best shot at mobilizing voters and winning the general election. General election voters might award the winner, but primary voters are the ones who set up the match, and that's a decision that should be made by more than just 5 percent of the people.

So in the end, if you think that your opinion and your vote doesn't matter, think again! The people in office now are making decisions that will affect your life now and later! This is why it's important to get involved and be heard now. Let your vote be counted.