As my wife and I were leaving the polling place in our new neighborhood Tuesday, she suddenly choked up. I asked if she was upset because her gubernatorial candidate might lose.

She started laughing.

"Well, if that's not it, why are you upset? I asked.

"I'm not upset," she shot back. "I was just thinking about how grateful I am every time I vote and how much each of these elections means to me. Don't you feel the same way?"

I told her I absolutely agreed but couldn't get choked up about it.

But her reaction got me thinking about how much we take voting for granted and how much of a difference our votes really can make. Even though we often feel we're not making a difference, I believe we are by simply getting into the car, going to a polling place and voting.

For instance, I read this week that about 55 percent of Connecticut's voters were projected to turn out, which isn't too bad. The weather on Tuesday was perfect, my wife and I had plenty of time to get over to the poll and there was a very short line.

We were in and out in about 15 minutes. And the best part was, except for not knowing either of the state senate candidates in our new district, we both had knowledge of the candidates for Congress, secretary of the state, comptroller, state treasurer and, of course, governor.

In other mid-term elections, I haven't been as well prepared and often found myself guessing about who might do the best job. That's not a great way to arrive at the polls.

It seems hard to believe that I've had the privilege of voting for 52 years and never missed any of the 13 presidential elections. My wife and I have cast ballots in six different states -- even squeezed in votes on the day we were leaving for Amsterdam, only to learn along with hundreds of other passengers that our candidate lost.

In three presidential elections --1976, 1980 and 1984 -- I took a deep breath and switched my votes to Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Reagan again because I believed my Democratic colleagues had not produced a strong enough candidate. On the morning I voted for Ford in Jackson, Mich., the line was so long, I waited for more than an hour in pelting rain. I guess I was not alone in wanting to make a difference after Nixon's downfall. I believed Gerald Ford had made a difference and could be a really strong president.

I felt the same about Reagan. For his first election, we were living in Reading, Pa., and for his second victory, we were Connecticut residents. But I believed in his platforms in both elections and felt he delivered on his promises.

As a resident of Fairfield, I had the privilege to work in some smaller elections as a staffer at our neighborhood polling place, and that was when I really understood the contribution we, as citizens, can make. I worked with wonderful people and learned so much about the system. I was really disappointed not to be able to work a presidential election.

This year's mid-term elections are probably the most volatile I've seen in a long time. Between the venomous ads for gubernatorial candidates in our state, along with nasty campaigns in many other states, I wouldn't be surprised if voters who want change succeed -- especially with just six U.S. Senate seats standing in the way of a Republican majority. None of those seats are in Connecticut, but their precariousness hit close to home for me. I would not be happy to see those seats in the opposing camp.

And if the current Democratic Senate seats are lost, a sitting president would likely become a lame duck.

Nevertheless, I'm wearing my "I voted" sticker proudly and so is my wife. No matter what happens, we believe that simply by exercising our right to vote, we have made a difference.

Steven Gaynes "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: