When I walked out of my old polling place Tuesday morning, Nov. 6, I felt depressed. Not just because there were so many complex ballot issues (all those constitutional amendments with virtually no public discussion) or because, for the first time that I could remember, I didn't see Bonnie Shride, a longtime poll worker who died earlier this year. No, as I walked out I realized that I had just participated in my last real election day. I started going to the polls with my mother when I was a little kid. I've always valued the ritual. I know people say we don't have time for these little rituals any more. Give me a break. This is a society that has elevated Super Bowl Sunday to a national event, a society in which adolescents rent limos for high school dances. We have plenty of rituals. Voting just happens to be one on which we no longer want to waste our time. I know the theory that voting by mail will make it easier for people to participate. I'm not sure that should be the point. Should there be no functional difference between choosing one's leaders and paying one's credit card bill? If user friendliness is the point, why does King County force people to put their own stamps on the ballot envelopes? And why does King County calibrate the weight so closely that a voter who forgets to tear off the tab at the top of the ballot will probably need extra postage? Mail-in voting may very well increase the number of votes cast, but who knows whether or not it increases the number of voters. Monday morning, a friend called me to talk about the candidates and issues. He explained that he felt a big responsibility, because he was voting for three people: himself; his wife, who cares less about politics than he does; and his aged mother. He and I agree on most major issues, so I'm happy enough to know that he gets three votes, but really, is this the way the system is supposed to work? Forget about one man, one vote. Forget about the old ideal of the independent voter alone with the ballot choices, alone with his or her conscience in that little booth. We have abandoned it, as we have abandoned the old ritual of civic participation. Our last election day has passed.