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Voting in the 2020 general election has begun. In West Virginia, almost 10% of registered voters had requested absentee ballots as of Oct. 13, and about half of those had returned their ballots, according to the secretary of state’s office.

There are many reasons to vote. They are so obvious they don’t need to be explained here.

This election is different because of how strong people’s opinions are.

Until a few days ago, the presidential election had dominated political talk. Leading up to it, we’ve had the Resistance, the Green New Deal, impeachment and talk of collusion.

Fear of COVID-19 has led many voters to vote by mail, and that opened another opportunity for debate and fearmongering.

Since at least the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, politics has become entertainment and sport. It keeps talking heads on radio and cable news networks employed as they fill air time with whatever they need to keep their fan bases riled up. From Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Donald Trump, rhetoric has gotten angrier with each election, and with that anger comes an unwillingness to compromise. It’s winner take all.

The difference between politics as sport and actual sport is in the trash talk. Listening to a fan of one team talk trash to a fan of another team is one thing. When political talk turns to trash talk, it gets ugly fast. It threatens friendships and relationships.

Political trash talk has helped ruin social media for many users or former users.

As the official Election Day approaches, people are talking more about state and local races. That’s good. Elections for president and Congress focus on the large issues. State and local elections focus us on down-home issues. These are the ones that decide the condition of our roads and schools; of public safety via police, fire and emergency medical services; of zoning regulations and building codes.

For the next few weeks, newspapers, radio, television and other media will be filled with political talk. There will be wheat among all those words, but there also will be a lot of chaff. Separating the two isn’t always easy, especially when many people form opinions and then go looking for facts to back them up.

If you’re part of the 5% that has voted, your work is done. If you haven’t voted yet, you still have work to do. Read, listen and think. It’s not that complicated, but it’s not always easy.

To quote the Declaration of Independence, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That’s where the right to vote comes in.

If you don’t care, don’t vote. If you do care, vote. It’s an obligation that comes with living in a free, self-governing society.