ON MARCH 4, Ohio voters will make their voices heard in the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries. The question is: Will you make your vote count?
This is more than a question of numbers, although the closeness of the races, especially on the Democratic side, makes it even more important than usual that all Ohioans eligible to vote fulfill this critical civic responsibility. It is also a question of who gets your vote, since the ballots on that day will include the names of several candidates no longer in the race.
In addition to Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic choices will include two who have publicly given up their quest for the presidency: Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
On the Republican side, actual candidates Sen. John McCain, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul are joined by three ex-contestants, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson.
As far as Ohio law and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's office are concerned, Messrs. Romney, Thompson, and Edwards are still running for their parties' nominations because they didn't file an official withdrawal notice. Ballots cast for them will be tabulated along with those cast for candidates still competing to make the White House their home.
Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Kucinich, however, did file notice with the state that they were withdrawing - but not until after the state's Jan. 19 deadline for having their names removed. So, votes for them will be treated the same as no vote at all.
Clear as mud? We thought so.
The bottom line is that 10 names - 4 Democrats and 6 Republicans - will be before Ohio voters on March 4, but they will not represent equal choices.
A vote for Mr. Giuliani or Mr. Kucinich will be a wasted vote. It won't even send a message or act as a protest because it won't be counted.
Votes for Mr. Thompson, Mr. Romney, and Mr. Edwards will be tabulated and they could, theoretically, win delegates to their national conventions. But, because they're so far out of the running, a vote for them serves as little more than wishful thinking or an empty protest.
For voters serious about selecting the best person to occupy the Oval Office, there are only five authentic choices on the ballot: Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton for the Democrats and Messrs. Paul, Huckabee, and McCain for the Republicans. These are the votes that will count in every sense of the word.