AND the winner is ... Joe No-Show! If there is one prediction that will almost certainly come true on Nov. 8, it is that the nonvoters will decide the election.
What share of those who should be eligible to go to the polls will elect to stay home - 47 percent? 49 percent? 51 percent? The numbers swell with those who failed to register.
Curtis Gans estimates that no-shows will be on the high side next Tuesday - with perhaps the largest ballot boycott in 40 years. Mr. Gans, head of the Washington, D.C.-based Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, blames apathy, frustration, and lack of enthusiasm for either of the major presidential candidates for this likely low turnout.
Others say that blacks and those of other minorities - who are traditionally underrepresented in the voter ranks - will stay away in droves because they don't believe the presidential aspirants sufficiently represent their views or interests.
What else keeps Americans away from the polls? Some blame registration hurdles for low turnout, among them, social scientists Frances Piven and Richard Cloward, who point out that ``once people are registered, they overwhelmingly vote.''
In their new book, ``Why Americans Don't Vote'' (Pantheon), the authors say that ``in 1980, more than 80 percent of registrants went to the polls, and the turn-out among those with little education and income was only marginally lower.''
Interestingly, voter turnout in other democratic countries - including Belgium, Australia, Austria, Sweden, and Italy - has topped 90 percent in national elections in the 1980s. It should be pointed out, however, that most of these nations have more or less automatic registration systems.
Registration is not the only problem. A recent survey by the Gallop organization shows that voter turnout in the United States in 1980 and 1984 was between 52 and 53 percent; almost 80 percent of those polled had earlier indicated their intention to cast ballots in these elections.
One might conclude that somehow the long election campaign dampened the enthusiasm of many who expected to vote. Regardless, there are persuasive reasons why citizens should vote.
Civic duty. Americans, on the whole, take great pride in the upkeep and welfare of their communities. They maintain neighborhood watches to deter crime; they often join together in housing rehabilitation projects.
Public officials have a duty to respond to the needs of those they serve. And their constituents must keep them alert to this mandate.
Voting is an important way to show awareness of civic problems. Those who cast ballots are more likely to be informed on issues than those who do not.
Presidential choice. Despite the blur of the campaign, there is a distinct difference between the candidates and the political parties.
Each approaches the economy, foreign policy, crime, and the environment in a special way.
Certain issues will tend to push the on-the-fence voter to one side or the other.
Ask yourself the broader question of how each candidate, if elected, will promote international understanding and domestic stability.
Weigh experience, defense commitment, devotion to social justice, and fiscal responsibility. Then have confidence in your evaluation - and make a choice at the ballot box.
Local and regional concerns. It is important to look beyond the top of the ticket. All US House seats and one-third of those in the Senate face voter confirmation. Candidates for local and state office as well as judicial choices are on most ballots. Initiatives and referendums encompass issues as far ranging as abortion rights, smoking limitations, and tax overrides.
These things affect all of us. Voter information booklets explain many of them.
It is not too late for the registered voter to become informed - and indicate preferences on election day.
Support for the nation. Americans embrace symbols - parades, flags, pledges. These represent patriotic pride in the nation's purpose.
Voting is also an important indication of national pride. It endorses freedom of choice and the importance of the individual in the political process.
You do make a difference. Casting a ballot is indicative of self-esteem. It sets a significant example for the younger generation - tomorrow's voters or nonvoters.
Representative government is built on participation - both yours and mine.
A Thursday column