The 2012 presidential election, like the news surrounding Hurricane Sandy, may seem far removed from Oregon, with all the action occurring many miles away.

This state’s voters, however, shouldn’t allow their supposed irrelevancy in the national election to deter them from returning their ballots by Nov. 6.

It’s true that President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney have left Oregon on the sidelines — based on the assumption that the state’s seven electoral votes would almost certainly go to Obama regardless of any campaign stops or advertising buys in the state.

But there are plenty of other reasons — including the opportunity to influence the popular vote in the presidential race — for Oregonians to continue their tradition of high voter turnout during fall elections.

The conventional thinking that Oregon would go blue once again in the presidential contest is somewhat supported by the most recent poll conducted by DHM Research on behalf of Oregon Public Broadcasting and Fox 12. That survey of 500 likely voters statewide shows a seven-point lead for Obama, which is substantial enough to put Oregon just out of reach for Romney, but also considerably lower than Obama’s 17-point margin over John McCain in Oregon four years ago.

The DHM poll is consistent with other recent Oregon surveys that show a significant, but not overpowering, lead for Obama. Such poll results and the expectations they produce could lead to complacency among Democrats or discouragement for Republicans. However, numerous other issues should motivate all voters to fill out their ballots.

Statewide, voters will decide whether to end the corporate kicker, phase out the estate tax and legalize marijuana. They will elect a secretary of state, labor commissioner, state treasurer and attorney general. Control of the Legislature is in play, considering that every seat in the evenly divided House of Representatives is up for election.

These local and statewide races can have more impact on Oregonians’ lives than a presidential race, but even those voters who are single-minded about national issues have a legitimate reason to register their preference in this election.

The presidential race is so close nationally — maybe even rivaling the disputed 2000 election — that it’s possible to envision a split between the Electoral College and the popular vote. The intensity of campaigning in the battleground states has distorted the election, perhaps to a greater degree than in elections past. For that reason, a vote cast for either candidate, even in Oregon, carries symbolic power for whichever candidate wins the Electoral College and the right to lead a narrowly divided nation.

As of Tuesday morning, about 20 percent of ballots had been returned statewide. Ballots must be received at county election offices or drop-off points by 8 p.m. on Tuesday.

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