I voted for the first time as a senior in high school, and it changed my life. My parents taught me that voting was an important civic duty, so I studied the candidates and the issues and debated with my family and friends until I was confident I could make the right decision. On Election Day, I knew I was ready.
I eagerly stepped into the voting booth, closed the blue curtain behind me and froze as my stomach hit the ground. At that moment, I learned a lifelong lesson: Voting is powerful.
Traditionally, about one-third of the state's registered voters cast a ballot in a primary election. That means more than 400,000 registered voters regularly miss the powerful opportunity to participate in one of our democracy's most fundamental rights.
As the state's chief elections official, I urge all eligible Montanans to register and to vote in the primary election on June 8.
With 350 candidates vying to run for public office, the primary is guaranteed to significantly impact the future of our government.
There will be a statewide primary for the U.S. House of Representatives for both Democrats and Republicans. The top candidates for the two Montana Supreme Court justice races and the six District Court judge races will be determined in the primary, as well as the Republican candidates for two of the Public Service Commission seats.
There's competition within parties for the state Legislature as well. Fifteen of the 26 state Senate races and 38 of the 100 state House races will have at least one primary.
This is all good news for Montana voters. A strong primary gives voters in counties across the state increased opportunities to decide who will appear on November's general election ballot. But the only way to make a difference, is to exercise your right to vote.
Electors may choose to vote in person at their polling place, or by filling out and returning an absentee ballot before 8 p.m. on Election Day. AutoMark voting machines are also available at every polling location to ensure voters with special needs are able to vote both privately and independently.
If you haven't registered, don't worry. Montana voters have from now until the close of polls on Election Day to register and to vote at their county election office. To check your voter registration status, or to look up your polling place location, log on to the Secretary of State's website at sos.mt.gov. Printable voter registration cards and absentee ballot applications are also available on the website.
Whether you prefer the tradition of heading to the polls on Election Day or the convenience of filling out and returning an absentee ballot, voting continues to be one of the easiest and most effective ways to participate in government and in our democracy.
Voting is powerful, and it is our duty as citizens of this great state and nation to participate in every election - including this year's primary.
I urge you to take the time to make sure you're registered and to vote in the primary election on June 8.
Linda McCulloch is Montana's Secretary of State.