Presidential-election years are always a bit disorienting around here. On one hand, we can't help but be both impressed and appalled at the choreography at play in the quest for the White House.

The presidential debates, with their binders of negotiated rules, are about as spontaneous as Alan Keyes' notion of procreational sex. What do you think? It doesn't matter. We now have national news correspondents analyzing the Republicans' reaction to Hillary Clinton's spin on President Bush's performance. Even in this swing state, we feel like hapless bystanders in the scripted drama of one of the most important elections in the nation's history.

But drop down just a line or two on your ballot, and the human element of local electoral politics is painfully apparent. David Wu, one of just 435 people in a nation of almost 300 million to sit in the U.S. House of Representatives, stumbles over our question, the same one that President Bush would so blatantly avoid a few days later: "What are the biggest mistakes you have made in public office?" And while Sen. John Kerry must respond to tortured Republican logic in calm and respectful tones, state Rep. Mike Schaufler is under no such constraints. The eastside Democrat, who makes his living building driveways, pounds the table in our conference room and demands that Republicans, who want to fund schools but not raise taxes, be forced to outline the $700 million in cuts needed to make that happen. "I'm tired of this circular logic!" he bellows. So are we.

Schaufler wasn't the only one who seemed particularly testy this year. Many of the ballot measures are reheated versions of tired, old battles. And, at times, the emotions cut both ways across our conference room table. During our Measure 36 endorsement, we all watched nervously to see how Byron Beck, our friend and colleague, would react as proponents of the measure told him, politely and calmly, that he's just a little less equal than they are.

Yeah, there's a lot at stake on Nov. 2. The control of the state Senate. The fate of our forests. The welfare of Oregon troops in Iraq. The ability of gays and lesbians to make medical decisions for their partners. So we encourage you to read our voters' guide, get informed and--when your ballot arrives next week--vote.

Vote like your life depended on it.

Because this year, for a lot of Oregonians, it just might.