As I was driving down a busy street in St. Paul last week, I noticed among the preponderance of political yard signs that one stood out. In large letters, it simply said "JUST VOTE."

I wish to echo that sentiment.

We are in the thick of the "silly season," as the pre-election weeks are often called. The candidates and their surrogates are pounding home their messages, frequently to the point that we tune them out. Political posturing and name-calling surround us. We sift through the claims and counterclaims and hope we have the truth.

And then, sadly, some just give up. The confusion is too overwhelming. Or they get lazy. Or they don't care. Or, most tragically, they feel like their vote is meaningless.

They couldn't be more wrong.

Even if you vote for just one candidate or one issue, your vote is your voice.

I don't care whom or what you vote for, please don't pass up this opportunity to be heard. Our American system affords us a unique opportunity to shape our future.

Of course, I have favorite candidates on each slate. I rarely vote a straight ticket, finding personal qualities and reasonable positions on issues I really care about throughout the ballot.

In addition, I have a certain respect for individuals who enter the race, knowing they are exposing themselves to all kinds of criticism and vitriol. Elections in the Internet age are a whole different ball game. Given the potential for anonymous character assassination, I often wonder who would be willing to place his or her name in nomination.

But the ballot is ripe with capable candidates and compelling issues. The choices are pretty clear-cut. Even though our choices may not be the ultimate winners, we have a duty to exercise our right to vote.

I have a theory that a large voter turnout screams to those who are elected: "We all cared enough to vote. We will be watching you to make sure you don't let us down."

But a small turnout sends the message that people just don't care. That is when representatives start to think no one is watching. Our government is based on majority rules, but passing on voting means the minority wins out.

The ancient city of Athens may well have been the birthplace of what we call civic spirit. When he reached voting age, it was the obligation of every Athenian to stand in the public square and take this oath: "We will strive unceasingly to quicken the public sense of duty -- so that we will make this city greater, better and more beautiful than it was when we took this oath."

What a tremendous example. There are few opportunities to express your opinion with such impact. Voting gives you voice in your government, from the people who represent you to the issues that affect the way you live.

In other words, if you don't exercise your right to vote, you might as well forfeit your right to complain.

To put it more eloquently, I'll borrow the words of American statesman Daniel Webster: "Impress upon children the truth that the elective franchise is a social duty of as solemn a nature as man can be called to perform; that a man may not incorrectly trifle with his vote; that every elector is a trustee as well for others as himself and that every measure he supports has an important bearing in the interests of others as well as on his own."

Your vote is sacred, it is secret and it is important. It is much more powerful than you might suppose. It may seem like nothing at the start, but it carries tremendous and widespread effects -- like the future of our country.

Mackay's Moral: To me, VOTE stands for "Voice of the Electorate." Be heard.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail