It’s not often we have the chance to perform one of our most valued civic duties – voting – but today is Election Day 2010, and millions of Americans will take the time to drive to their local Board of Elections, in many cases wait in line, and then mark, punch, or select names on a ballot. These names, some of them marked with a letter D or R, represent the people who will act as public servants for the next years.

Some mothers, like mine did, will take their children with them into their polling booth and show how to mark the ballot and explain the importance of what they are doing. I will never forget going with my mom as a child. I wasn’t around in 1920 when the Nineteenth Amendment passed to give women the right to vote. And none of us were around when colonial patriots defied the world’s greatest superpower and fought for representation in their own new government.

But I have seen how in other parts of the world, men and women are intimidated and threatened on Election Day. I’ve read about Taliban bomb scares at polling places, and the brave citizens who go to vote anyway. Violent cowards in other parts of the world seek to destroy the democratic process. But individuals continue to endure whatever is necessary so that they can get to the polls. And for what? To randomly select names on a ballot? To bubble in only the D’s or the R’s?

No, our right to vote is our strongest expression of which leaders we want to represent us. We are blessed to live in a country where information about the candidates and the issues are so readily available.

Today there will be a great effort to “get out the vote.” While voter turnout indicates how many people marked their ballots, it says nothing about how many people bothered to read about the voting records or stances of the candidates. If we ignore the issues, we turn our national elections into nothing more than a popularity contest. The idea behind the right to vote is that voters become informed, even if that means only taking a few minutes to browse the Web or read the platforms of candidates. To throw away your vote with a random or uninformed choice is disrespectful to all the people who have fought to give us suffrage. Today, before you go to the polls, take some time to investigate the races and the people you’ll be voting for.