SOUTH BEND –  Elections matter.
   
Not all elections. Russia’s vote in March didn’t matter. Reelection of Vladimir Putin was preordained. Who was permitted to run, what could be said in campaigning and what journalists could report about any of it were controlled. It was a foregone conclusion that Putin would win by a landslide and that the election would have no effect on him or his policies.
   
But our elections matter. We can change leaders and the course of the nation. Sometimes we do, other times we stay the course.
   
The 2016 presidential election was one of the most important ever in changing the nation’s course. It was close. Nothing was preordained. And the results mattered. A lot.
   
The course of the nation was changed on spending priorities, taxation, health care, environmental regulations, foreign policy, trade, immigration, social issues, voting rights and approach to civil rights. The change isn’t just temporary. Much of it will have long-lasting effect. That’s driven home clearly by the resulting control of the Supreme Court.
   
Justices selected by President Trump and confirmed by a Senate kept Republican by voters in 2016 can for many years, likely for decades, provide a majority to strike down gun regulations, halt campaign finance changes, curb abortion availability, slap down unions, approve immigration bans and slow some social changes.
   
Conservatives who took the chance now take a bow. They wanted many of those changes. They took a chance that Donald Trump, though not really a conservative and with many flaws, would bring the change in course they wanted. Polls show more and more Republicans, although not pleased with Trump tweets and personality, now express overall approval of the job Trump has done.
   
A significant number of progressives took a seat instead of a chance. They didn’t want those changes Trump has brought or a solidly conservative Supreme Court. But they didn’t like Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. Maybe because of her personality or because of her husband. Maybe because of what she charged for speeches or that she had a personal email server. Maybe because she defeated Bernie Sanders and some of her supporters seemed to be mean to Bernie. For whatever reasons, a decisive number of Democrats stayed home on election day or defected to a third-party candidate with no chance to win.
   
Decisive number? It didn’t take that many in key states where the race was close and the presidency was decided. Polls had shown that Democrats had the potential support to take control of the Senate, especially because of the seats that were up for election in 2016. The potential did not materialize. Democratic turnout was down.
   
Republicans seemed more convinced that the 2016 election mattered, really mattered. They were right.
   
The election this fall will matter, too. Not as much as the monumental 2016 election. The presidency isn’t at stake. Control of the Supreme Court isn’t there for the taking as it was in 2016. Court control? That ship has sailed on a long conservative cruise. Control of the Senate doesn’t seem to be within Democratic grasp. The seats up this time favor Republicans.
   
But, control of the House is in play. That’s important. If Republicans keep control of both Senate and House to go along with the presidency and Supreme Court, the change of direction determined in 2016 will be solidified. If Democrats at least capture the House, they will have one legislative chamber with budget-making power and the ability to slow down some of the changes and investigate rather than just rubber-stamp administration actions.
   
While the 2018 election won’t matter as much as 2016 did, it still will have meaning for the future. A lot? The voice of the voters – the voters deciding to have a voice – will determine that. 

Colwell is a South Bend Tribune columnist.