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Quirks in US process: Is system to blame?

A lot of Americans tell pollsters they don't vote because it makes no difference, and some observers think they are partly right. Only about half of US voters will cast ballots (54.4 percent in 1976) compared with 70 to 90 percent in other democracies. Instead of blaming the electorate, some think more attention should go to the system itself. For example:

* A lame-duck session of Congress meets here next week (Nov. 12), regardless of the outcome of the election. it will be the Old House and Senate. The congressmen will write the new budget from their old political legislative balance.

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* Separation of powers between White House and Congress will hamper, and sometimes hobble, the next President as it has in the past. For instance, it took three presidents to evolve an energy program; and Congress, under several chief executives, has been unable, so far, to pass a strategic arms limitation agreement.

* If Mr. Carter wins the election he will be constitutionally ineligible to run again, with his patronage wing clipped; if Mr. Reagan wins the election he probably will have to contend with a Democratic Congress that will curtail his actions.

* The United States is the only modern democracy where one party can control the legislature while another controls the executive.

* Governmental stalemate is caused by other things, among them decline of party discipline, decline of congressional leadership power, entrenchment of "little vetoes" in subcommittees, agencies, and bureaus.

Opinion polls indicate 80 percent of Americans favor federal gun controls, but the issue has been blocked in Congress by a poweful lobby. Also, polls show as many as 90 percent support tigher immigration control. But there are only 300 border patrol officers guarding the 1,900-mile Mexican border on any one shift, and officials guess there are 3 million to 6 million illegals in the US.

In an election eve editorial the New York Times calls for reform of the entire system by which prsidential candidates are selected. A post-election review seems inevitable.

The American election campaign now goes on for two to four years. The US is the only major democracy where the executive leader (president) is picked by a method of direct voter selection (primaries, caucuses, or conventions) instead of by an indirect system of rival political parties in the legislature. State primaries have jumped from 5 to 39 in a few years. This means, in effect, that the 1984 campaign has already begun. As campaigns grow longer voter, interest sags.

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It is still possible for a president to be elected whose opponent got more popular votes.

Rarely has so much boredom been expressed with an election or so little satisfaction with the rival candidates, as in 1980.

Half a dozen commissions have studied the American political system since the American Political Science Association issued its four-year study in 1950. Various groups now urge another "blue-ribbon commission."

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