Mass. is very heavily Democrat. Doesn't mean you have to be, of course, but that's how this state tends to go. Can't recall when the state last went for a Republican, hmm, might've been one of the Reagon elections. Dunno.
Anyway -- next election -- the big stuff is the first Tuesday in November although sometimes there are local runoff things at other times. Also, there are primaries, but that's only for the Presidency.
Every 4 years, we vote for a President. Those are even-numbered years and are always the 00 year in a century where the first two numbers in a century are even (such as 20 for the current century), then just keep adding a number that's a multiple of 4. So the next Presidential election is the first Tuesday in November, in 2008. Primaries and caucuses (states have one or the other) happen before then, that's how we choose who is going to be the party's choice for the general election. These things happen during the Spring and Summer right before the election, so the next crop is in the Spring and Summer of 2008. New Hampshire has the first primary and it's in March. Mass. -- hmm -- we do ours in April? May? I can't recall. The later the primary, the less likely that voting in a primary is meaningful, unless the candidates are really close. In 2004, Kerry pulled ahead pretty quickly, so states that voted in a later primary didn't have much of a chance to select the Democratic candidate. When there's an incumbent candidate (e. g. someone already in the Presidency), there's very rarely a challenge to that person running again. So in 2004 Bush was more or less unopposed for the Republican Presidential nomination.
The nomination, of course, is not the same as the actual election. Voting in one does not mean you're committed in the other.
Then over the Summer, the parties all have conventions. Big speeches are made and the parties' candidates are officially nominated. These are generally pretty scripted although every now and then there's a surprise, particularly if the primary/caucus voting was close. Also, it's a place to see rising political stars, the people who will probably run for President over the next 20 or so years.
The candidate also announces his or her running mate, e. g. the person they want for Vice President. Sometimes that's the person with the second-highest number of primary/caucus votes. Sometimes it's someone with a lot of political experience, or from a different area of the country, or someone younger. All of this is in an effort to "balance the ticket". The idea is to make the VP candidate someone that voters are also interested in, but for different reasons. They usually have similar ideology to the Presidential candidate but have these other differences. For Bush, Cheney was selected probably more because he has a lot of political experience than anything else. Ronald Reagan chose George Bush, Sr. because he had the second-highest number of votes. Jimmy Carter chose Walter Mondale because Carter is from Georgia and Mondale is from Minnesota. So you see this in action.
In October and early November, the campaigns really intensify. You might see debates on TV. You'll see and hear ads on TV, radio and perhaps the 'net. You'll also get a postcard telling you where your polling place is and its hours of operation. It is the law, I believe, that you must be granted an hour (by your employer) to vote on Election Day.
The method of voting varies by where you are. The last time I voted, I was given a black magic marker and a computer-scannable sheet. I was asked to stand at a spot with a tall table (almost like a lectern) and high sides so that no one could see what I was doing. I filled in the circles and then, when I was done, gave the paper and marker to the person at the desk. Before that, I had used old-fashioned voting machines. You go in, you pull a huge (heavy!) lever to the side and a curtain closes. You flip little levers to the side. Red means you vote for someone, black means you didn't choose someone. Then, when done, you flip the big lever back to the other side and the curtain opens again. Some people get paper ballots to mark, others get cards to punch. It depends on the district.
Once you've handed in your ballot, you're done, and can't change your mind. And one thing, you don't need to vote for every single office if you don't want to. You can even get a ballot and mark nothing on it, or write in a candidate's name. This is your right.
Your vote is private. No one needs to know about it unless you tell them. You don't have to honor a promise to vote for anyone. No one can buy it from you and, if they try to, they are violating election laws. Your vote is your own.
Now, the Presidency isn't the only race out there. Senators are elected every six years. All states have two Senators, so it's staggered. In one year, Senator A is up for election, then two years later, Senator B's seat is up, and then two years later, neither Senator is up, and then two years after that, Senator A is up again. The House of Representatives holds elections every even-numbered year. Everyone in the House is up for election then. You have one Representative in the House. Governors are chosen every four years, in even-numbered years. Gubernatorial races vary from state to state, so Massachusetts might have a race during the year that New York doesn't and California does, or whatever.
* Senator Kennedy is up for reelection in Mass. Likely challengers are:
Kevin Paul Scott (R)
Ken Chase (R)
Daniel Christopher Wetherbee (R)
* Governor Romney's seat is up (he's not running for reelection). Here are the likely candidates for Governor:
Deval Patrick - Democrat - former assistant U.S. Attorney General and Coca Cola executive
Thomas Reilly - Democrat - current Massachusetts Attorney General and former practicing attorney
Gary Lee - Republican - selectman of Norwood, MA and attorney
Kerry Healey - Republican - current Lt. Governor
Christy Mihos - Independent - Convenience store magnate, former member of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority
* I don't know which Congressional district you're in, but the candidates for the House are:
District 01 John W. Olver (D) *
District 02 Richard E. Neal (D) *
District 03 James P. McGovern (D) *
District 04 Barney Frank (D) *
Charles A. Morse (R)
District 05 Marty Meehan (D) *
District 06 John F. Tierney (D) *
Richard W. Barton (R)
Peter G. Torkildsen (R)
District 07 Edward J. Markey (D) *
District 08 Michael E. Capuano (D) *
District 09 Stephen F. Lynch (D) *
Philip Dunkelbarger (D)
District 10 Bill Delahunt (D) * (incumbents are starred)
Masschusetts Congressional districts are mapped here: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/cis/cismap/mapidx.htm
I happen to be in the 8th district, I think you might be in the 9th.
Mass. Directory of Political Parties: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elepar/paridx.htm
But it appears you don't need to declare for a political party: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elepdf/partyenrollstat.pdf
this indicates that in 2004 a little over half of all voters hadn't declared for any political party.
I liked these sites for my info: http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/article.php?id=LJS2005092201
Hope this helps!