Here in Texas, March primary elections matter.

The March 6 primaries are when voters select the Republican and Democratic candidates to run in the November general election. That means that the candidates who win the March primaries will drive the issues for the November election — and the state’s policy priorities for years to come.

Let’s take a look at why it’s so important for Austin’s tech sector to make its voice heard in the primary election.

Why do primaries matter so much?

In a word, gerrymandering — or drawing political boundaries to give an advantage to one party over the other.

The overwhelming majority of Texas districts are drawn to either be safely Republican or Democratic. This means that most Texas elections are determined in the primary. If you sit out the primary election, you’re sitting out the election that matters most.

If you want Texas elected officials to care about issues relevant to you, then you must vote in the Texas primary elections — or you risk losing your voice to those who do.

Who votes in primaries?

Fewer than two million voters showed up for the last midterm primary elections in Texas — and that’s in a state that now has 28 million people. Check out the turnout figures from 2014:

For statewide races like U.S. Senator, Governor, and Lieutenant Governor, Texas votes Republican. In fact, the last Democrat to win statewide office did so in 1994. So given that a statewide Republican nominee is likely to win in November, that means that about 7 percent of all Texans determined our state’s current policy agenda for the other 93 percent of us.

But the power is in your hands — all you have to do is vote in Texas’ primary elections so that candidates reflect your priorities, not someone else’s.

Okay, you’ve convinced me. How do I vote in the primary election?

If you haven’t voted in a primary election in Texas, the process is similar to a November general election. You must be registered to vote and show proper identification.

When you arrive at the polling location, you simply tell the polling volunteer which party’s primary — Republican or Democratic — you want to vote in this election. That’s all there is to it. You don’t need to register with a political party and you don’t need a political party ID card to vote in a primary election. You simply show up and say which primary you want to vote in.

How you make that decision is entirely up to you. You may care about a particular race or want to support a particular candidate. Or, you can choose to vote strategically and vote in the primary of the party you may not personally identify with. You alone get to make that choice. There are only two rules to keep in mind:

  1. You can only vote in one party’s primary.
  2. Once you vote in a party’s primary, you can only vote in the runoff election for that same party. Runoffs occur whenever one candidate doesn’t get more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary.

Early voting for the March 6 primary begins on February 20, and in Travis and Williamson counties, you can vote at any polling location in your county.

Remember: you can still vote however you want in November. Your vote in the primary doesn’t impact how you vote in the general election — you’ll get the same ballot as your neighbor, and you’re free to vote for whoever best represents your values. After all, your vote is needed in the general election, too: