The electoral process; Elections '80. Washington: Congressional Quarterly Inc. $6.95 (paperback).

Wasn't it in high school that you first heard: If you don't exercise your precious right to vote, you can't complain if government doesn't turn out to your liking.

Being the conscientious type, you have dutifully gone to the polls and cast your ballot -- in fair weather or foul, whether you were thrilled with any of the candidates or not. But have you ever really had the kind of choice the American system of government is supposed to provide? More important, do you really think government is one bit better because you voted?

If you come to the unavoidable conclusion that the answers are no and no again, what's to be done about it?

Operating on the premise that understanding the system is half the battle, you might start by reading this short paperback and learning -- perhaps relearning if you've forgotten your high school civics -- how it works. Rest assured that if you don't know or care to find out, plenty of others do and are carrying the political process forward without you.

"Elections '80," published by the respected Washington political research firm Congressional Quarterly Inc., offers an elementary explanation of the electoral process. Reading it is a bit like sitting down to a carefully prepared garden salad: Everything has been systematically peeled, sliced, diced, and chopped, and so you know exactly what you're in for.

The book is crammed full of maps, charts, graphs, lists, chronologies, and sidelights that complement main articles; virtually every page has at least one of the above.

But the book's greatest strength is providing a historical context for each discussion so the reader can see how, for example, the Electoral College, primaries, party conventions, and political action committees evolved. Particularly good is the section of the Electoral College -- a difficult institution for many to understand but one attracting more than the usual interst this year because of the possibility that John Anderson's challenge to the traditional two-party contest could throw the final selection into the House of Representatives.

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