It was my first time. I was 18 years old. I'd been waiting for this moment for years, wondering what it would feel like, doing something so private yet so . . . shared. It was the 2000 election, and I had in my hand my first voter-registration card.

Growing up in the D.C. area with politically minded parents, I couldn't wait to be a part of the process. My friends and I were so excited, we canvassed neighborhoods, cheered through bullhorns at rallies, registered people to vote. And the big day was just as special as I pictured it: waiting in line with my fellow patriots, signing my name in the registration book, stepping behind the dusty velvet curtain, and cranking the weighty, prehistoric lever - my vote counting as much as President Clinton's.

That night, a group of us gathered around the TV in our dorm at the University of Pittsburgh, stealthily passing around tallboy cans of PBR (old enough to choose the leader of the free world, not enough to crack a cold one legally) and talking until sunrise. It doesn't get any better than this, I thought.

But soon enough, irregularities were discovered in the way votes were cast and counted in Florida. Talking heads feasted for weeks; chads, both hanging and dimpled, ruled our lives. A nail-biter recount was underway. And when the Supreme Court elected to call a halt to that, it suddenly felt like - wait a minute--someone's vote did count more than mine.

By the next election, political involvement for me meant cracking wise about John Kerry's sky-high bouffant and the first twins' bar-hopping escapades. But this year, something changed. Maybe it was having a woman come this close to a major-party nomination, or the historic possibility of the first African-American president, or a 71-year-old war hero fighting the good fight yet again because he cares that much about our country. Maybe it's just that so much is at stake. I'll never cannonball in the way I did eight years ago. Older, wiser, and more realistic, I know the perils of letting yourself care. But if politics is like love, how could you have it any other way?

What Do You Think?