Unless you've been living under a hood at Gitmo for the last few years, you're probably aware that there's a big, world-changing, Bush-era-ending presidential race on. So what's your excuse for missing it?

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Perhaps you think Barack Obama already has Washington State in the bag. Or maybe your eyelids close at the thought of having to read over the whole long, miserably confusing election ballot. Those excuses are common. They are also lame.

First, if you think Obama has Washington State in the bag, check out the recent SurveyUSA poll that found Washington voters declaring John McCain the winner of the first presidential debate. (Yes, the same presidential debate that most national polls and pundits thought Obama won.) This state is blue, but it's done crazy things before—like backing Richard Nixon once and Ronald Reagan twice. Don't take anything for granted.

As for that long, scary, sleep-inducing ballot: never fear. Before Election Day comes, The Stranger's election cheat sheet will be in the paper and online to help you figure out what to think and where to scratch your pen.

Plus, the local issues at stake are important—assuming, that is, you ever plan on dying, commuting, using contraception, or shopping at Pike Place Market. That's you, right?

So let's start with the dying. You're going to do it one of these days. As is everyone you know and love. How will it go? This year, Washington voters get to weigh in on that question via Initiative 1000, also known as the "death with dignity" initiative. It would allow doctors to give terminally ill patients lethal doses of medication if the patients' conditions (and their medical directives) permitted.

Next, commuting. Everyone does it. Most people would like more, faster, and better ways to do it; some people would even like to do it by riding transit. But Initiative 985, the latest from notorious election villain Tim Eyman, would take away those choices, redirecting transit money (and money that pays for health care, education, and prisons) to roads. It would also open up HOV lanes to solo drivers, rendering them useless. Do you want to have more transportation choices, not fewer? Then make it known at the polls.

And while we're on the subject of commuting, voters in the Puget Sound region will decide, via Proposition 1, whether to approve an expansion of the Sound Transit light-rail system. Either way this goes, you're going to be bitching about it for years. Your gripes will have a lot more cred if you back them up with a vote.

Continuing on down the ballot, you'll find a $73 million property-tax levy to fix up Pike Place Market. You'll also get to vote on a $145 million levy to expand and improve Seattle parks. Who doesn't love parks and Pike Place Market? You? Then you really better vote.

Oh, and then there's the small matter of the governor's race, a rematch of a race that was decided by 133 votes in 2004. So every vote counts. And the distinctions in this race couldn't be more clear. For example, Republican Dino Rossi thinks pharmacists should be able to deny women access to emergency contraception; Democratic governor Christine Gregoire thinks pharmacists should be required to dispense legally prescribed medication. If you aren't into forced pregnancy, that means vote!

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Other important posts on this year's ballot include state lands commissioner (the person who decides just how much destruction of natural beauty is going to happen over the next four years), attorney general (the person who's going to have a good shot at the governor's office in a few years), and congressman/woman (a rematch in the Eastside's 8th Congressional District between incumbent Republican Dave Reichert and Democrat Darcy Burner that will help decide how big the Democratic majority is next year). recommended

eli@thestranger.com

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