Column: Congressman Pete Gallego Update

Not
too long ago while on a trip to visit our troops in Afghanistan, I met a group
of civilians who were totally dedicated to the cause of democracy and freedom.
They told me they could not go home for a while because they had voted – and
the enemy would either kill them or cut off their fingers if they had the
audacity to vote in an election.

Here in the U.S., Election Day is less than
two weeks away. For a two week period from Oct. 20 through Oct. 31, people
across Texas can vote early. Election Day itself is Tuesday, Nov. 4. Polls will
be open for twelve hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on that day. All told, there
will be at least 11 to 12 days where Texas citizens can vote.

Ironically, while our servicemen and women are
sacrificing daily to give people on the other side of the world a chance to
vote, here at home our fellow citizens seemingly have no desire to help chart
their own future. Texas, the bold and grand state we love so much, is the worst
offender. Texas ranks 50th out of the 50 states in voter participation and
turnout. Important races are on the ballot – yet it’s expected that most Texans
will stay home.

Voting is our right. It’s our responsibility.
It’s our future. It’s our way to hold those elected to office accountable. And,
as people all over the world will tell you, living in the oldest, strongest and
most successful democracy the world has ever know is also a privilege. Keeping
our democracy healthy requires individual participation from voters.

This past Monday morning, my wife María Elena,
my mom, and I early voted. We also took Nicolás along. Though he’s only 10, we
wanted Nicolás to see what voting is like and how special it is. He was
fascinated by the process and reviewed the ballot carefully. After filling out
my paper ballot, I let Nicolás put it in the ballot box. He’s now pretty
excited about turning 18 so he can fill out his own ballot.

This election is also the first midterm where
the state of Texas requires registered voters and fellow Texans to present a
form of picture identification in order to vote.

Only certain identifications
can be used, including your Texas driver’s license, Texas identification card,
U.S. military identification card, U.S. Passport or U.S. Certificate of
Naturalization – all which include a photo of you. You need identification with
a photo to vote. So remember, when you head to the polls, take your
identification card with you. Don’t forget it. To learn more about this new
law, where to vote and other voting practices, visit www.votetexas.gov.

Oftentimes as I travel throughout south and
west Texas meeting with people, I hear many complaints about local, state or
federal government. The first question I ask these individuals is: “Did you
vote?” If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain. Bad candidates are
elected by good people who stay home. You may feel that your vote doesn’t
matter. It does matter – a lot. And, exercising your right to vote also gives
you the luxury of knowing that, at least, you did all you could do to put our
state, nation and community on the right path.

Next time you see a TV ad encouraging you to
vote, hear that commercial on the radio about voting or read a social media
post on Facebook or Twitter encouraging you to exercise your right to vote,
don’t ignore them. Act on it. Vote. An election is your way to start getting
what you want from those who represent you. Do it.

For more information on U.S. Rep. Gallego,
visit www.gallego.house.gov. Learn more about U.S. Rep. Gallego by liking his
Facebook page or by following him on Twitter.

U.S. Representative Pete P. Gallego, D-Alpine,
represents the 23rd District of Texas, which includes all or parts of 29
counties in southwest Texas, stretching from San Antonio to El Paso. He serves
on the House Armed Services and House Agriculture Committees.