Last month’s magazine had a ­feature that emphasized ­cooperatives. Cooperatives are international and in some countries they play a dominant role in business and industry. That’s why we were pleased when the United Nations recognized this year as the International Year of the Cooperative.

The cooperative business model is governed by seven cooperative principles and the second principle is democratic control. Each member has a vote. They can use that vote most visibly at their co-op’s annual meeting to amend bylaws or elect members to their board of directors. When we think about democratic control, the board of directors is an obvious place where our votes count. We might even have a neighbor or friend who offers themselves as a board candidate. Cooperative directors are elected in the same manner as our city mayor or county sheriff or state representative.

If we think about the inter­national nature of our world, there are countries that have been repressed under a dictatorship or regime that are clamoring to be free and have a democratic government. Think of the people in those Arab countries that have finally grasped the democratic process. They are literally taking their lives into their hands to go to the ­voting booth, and yet they are excited to do so. And here we in the United States, a country only 200 or so years old, have benefited from this process and we take it for granted. All we have to do is watch the nightly news and see people who are so thrilled and overjoyed to finally have the chance to vote to make a difference in their government.

Democracy is messy. When we watch the main political parties ­fighting it out remember at the end of the day each party wants what is best for our democracy and way of ­governing. This messy democratic process is what makes our country great. It’s what other countries want to emulate.

The tragedy is we have complete freedom to go cast our vote and over half of the population will not exercise that right. In other countries 95 to 98 percent will show up – it’s a ­celebration; a celebration of a right to determine the shape of government.

It’s easy to be turned off by the mudslinging and negative ­advertising, but if we don’t exercise our right to vote then someone else determines who represents us from the state to the federal level. There is an old adage, “the government is run by those who show up (to vote).” That’s why we have to realize that yes there are flaws in the democratic process and it does become somewhat ­distracting, but it’s not a new phenomenon.

At the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Ill. there is an entire exhibit dedicated to cam­paigning in the 1860s. It was just as bad then, as it is now. Negative advertising isn’t a new phenomenon – it’s always happened. We have to put that in the back of our minds and still ­realize it’s important to vote for the best person possible.

In 1990, I was a candidate for state representative. I was walking door to door, at the end of October, outside of Taylorville. As I talked to two or three people on their doorsteps they said to me, “I voted for you.” I thought they meant they supported me, but finally it dawned on me they meant they had actually voted absentee. It was the first time someone had told me they voted for me. As a candidate, that’s a real thrill! To know that after all the months of work, it’s had a result. It was exhilarating and humbling. Like a farmer who at harvest finally sees the bounty of his work.

Former Illinois Senator N. Duane Noland is the President/CEO of the ­Association of Illinois Electric ­Cooperatives, Springfield and a ­member of Shelby Electric Cooperative.

On November 6, we have the opportunity to exercise our right to vote, from president clear through to township trustee. I want to ­encourage everyone to understand the issues, find out what all candidates stand for, and what their positions are, and go to the voting booth. Despite the exasperation and probably annoyance over the number of the candidate’s television commercials, radio ads and mailers we see or hear on a daily basis, please don’t let that be a ­distraction. Cast your vote on Election Day. There’s no greater privilege or honor.