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Voting is a privilege; don't take it for granted

Deciding to vote for the right presidential candidate isn't easy for a new citizen. It's simple to observe the political movement, parties' cultures and presidential candidates as an outsider -- a permanent resident -- who can't vote. It's harder, however, to make a decision on who to vote for when you are a registered voter.

When I became an American citizen in 2004, I registered to vote right after the naturalization ceremony, beating a 24-hour deadline for registration, but didn't list with a political party at that time. I soon received a notice that I was registered and could vote in the presidential election.

On Election Day, I went to vote for the fist time in the United States. I exercised my right as a new citizen and experienced a free, democratic election. I voted for the person I believed was a good candidate, with strong moral beliefs and leadership skills.

"Political is personal," somebody said to me, and I agree. The word "political" derives from the Greek word polis, which refers to the community in which one is a citizen. I learned that in a political science course at Hilbert College. Don't we all want to live in a community where "democracy," "equality," "rights" and "opportunity" are common principles?

This year, one candidate says we need "change." Another promises "straight talk." I wish I could have a straight talk with both of them about change and ask them many questions.

As an ordinary citizen, I want to continue my life in a free, democratic society where people have jobs of their choice, opportunity to excel and live in a safe, secure environment. I want my country to prosper and be well respected around the world. I want business to grow, government to get smaller and real estate to be affordable to all.

I eventually registered with a political party. I did my homework before joining. I heard and read a lot about both major parties' history and beliefs. I found that lists 55 registered parties.

I discovered that the Democratic Party has a long and proud history of representing and protecting the interests of working Americans and guaranteeing personal liberties for all.

And I learned that Republicans have a long and rich history with basic principles: individuals, not government, can make the best decisions; all people are entitled to equal rights; and decisions are best made close to home.

My decision to join a political party was based on my beliefs and personal experiences living in the former Soviet Union, a government-operated country with one political party in power. The election there was easy: one party and one candidate, chosen by the political elite in advance.

Going to the polls was a ritual tradition and had nothing to do with people's will. Ordinary citizens were afraid to express their views because of threats and persecutions. Dealing with the Communist Party was "either you're with us or you're our enemy." It wasn't a joke.

Voting for a presidential candidate in my new adopted country isn't easy. I've been following both candidates' campaigns closely, as they discuss important issues that touch me personally and propose new ideas that would benefit our country's safety, future, development and prosperity.

I will be ready to go to the poll on Election Day and vote for the candidate I believe will be a great leader and decision maker for his country and people.

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