A sign supporting D.C. statehood. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

Most of us either on or approaching the back nine of life — regardless of our politics — will probably agree that Tuesday is the most significant presidential election we have ever faced.

The tops of the tickets offer fundamentally different visions of the country’s direction. The stakes have never been so high. A sure bet: Folks in or near my generation — progressives, conservatives, in between — will turn out in droves.

The distressing news is that there are some young people holding back from voting.

The issue came up at a recent “Ready! Set! Vote! ” community forum on the election held at Metropolitan AME Church here in our nation’s capital.

The arguments they embrace for not voting, presented by some educators and parents, vary, but they essentially come down to: They don’t think their votes count; voting doesn’t make any difference in their lives; politicians don’t deal with their concerns; and, anyway, stripped down and unadorned, all pols are just about the same.

Where did we go wrong?

What did we fail to teach?

My life in the District is living proof that voting makes a difference.

I was born and raised in a city governed by three commissioners appointed by the president of the United States. The commissioners reported to a Congress that barked out marching orders.

Back then, we in the District’s large African American community were an afterthought.

The nearly all-white police force that patrolled my West End neighborhood was a law unto itself. Students at my Stevens Elementary School read from used textbooks handed down from white schools.

We weren’t even second-class citizens. Our citizenship was barely recognized.

Home rule, even in its limited form, helped change all that.

Electing the folks who govern can change the government’s focus. Elections did, and still do, make a difference in this city.

On the other hand, whether the government works well or badly is ultimately the responsibility of D.C. voters. The political leaders’ failures reflect our own failure to hold them accountable. The vote confers that power.

Failure to exercise it, even under restricted home rule, means relinquishing the will of D.C. residents to unchecked powers — as in the days of the D.C. commissioners.

Not vote in the District? Unthinkable.

That’s true, too, with respect to national elections.

Don’t tell me voting in a presidential contest doesn’t make a difference.

Twenty million Americans have been insured under the Affordable Care Act. That wouldn’t have happened without a vote.

Neither would the auto industry and 1 million jobs have been saved, nor would 73 consecutive months of overall job growth and 80 consecutive months of private-sector job growth have been achieved.

Because of a presidential vote, 2014 marked the first time since 1984 that the unemployment rate dropped in all 50 states and the District.

A change in the White House brought an end to “don’t ask, don’t tell,” produced the Dodd-Frank Act that holds Wall Street accountable, saw an end to Osama bin Laden and reduced the chances of Iran getting nuclear weapons.

Don’t like those results? Well, they happened. Would they have if the other guy had won?

What do you think will happen if a lying, amoral demagogue who’s held in the warm embrace of the Ku Klux Klan wins on Tuesday?

His only path to the White House is through the ballot box. Voting matters.

And so it is in the District.

Voters selected the leaders who produced the D.C. Housing Production Trust Fund and agreed to close the D.C. General homeless shelter, renovate public schools and lift the minimum wage.

Don’t think for one second that city leaders act on their own without regard for the voters’ opinions. Voters drive leaders’ behavior, for good or ill.

No less a subject than statehood depends upon where voters stand. Tuesday gives D.C. voters a chance to weigh in on the subject. No, the referendum isn’t binding. But without an expression of voter support for the city becoming a state, the idea goes nowhere, along with the chances of getting two senators and a voting representative in the House, the ability to appoint our own judges and control the court system, our budget and our laws, all without Congress’s approval.

But it all starts with a vote Tuesday.

“Votes don’t count or make a difference.”

Where did we go wrong?

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