WASHINGTON - Never has there been more money spent on a presidential election. Never has there been more information available on the candidates, and rarely have there been more choices.
Even so, 1996 may set a record for the lowest turnout for a presidential election in history. Rochester pollster Gordon Black said his firm's screening questions indicate the voting nationwide will fall below 50 percent of those eligible
Failing to vote, says Black, is the worst possible way we can express our frustrations and anger.
In New York, there are nine sets of candidates for president and vice president, running on 12 party lines on the ballot -- so many they can't all fit in the customary single row on the Erie County ballot.
President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore are running on the Democratic and Liberal Party Lines. Former Sen. Dole and Jack Kemp are the candidates of the Republican, Conservative and Freedom parties.
Ross Perot and economist Pat Choate are presidential and vice presidential candidates of the Independence Party.
Beyond this, the Right to Life, Green, Natural Law, Workers World, Libertarian and Socialist Workers parties all have national tickets.
New Yorkers have a 14-hour span in which to vote, ending at 9 Tuesday night. The last polls close at 11 p.m., Eastern time, in Hawaii, Alaska and California.
The television networks are being asked by citizens organizations to refrain from projecting a winner before the booths in these states close.
No outcry is expected if the networks do jump the gun this year, with most polls showing Clinton with double-digit leads. He would be the first Democrat to win re-election since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.
Surveys indicate that the election has been over in New York State since Labor Day, leaving the only real questions the important races for Congress, the State Legislature, judge and local office.
Democrats are hoping they can ride the national ticket's coattails to restoration of the party's majorities in the House and Senate. Such events have been rare -- the last big shift occurring after the Nixon Watergate scandals in the congressional elections of 1974.
Legislative elections are considered crucial by both parties. Republicans are hoping to match their 1994 congressional takeover with victories in state legislatures. There, they said, the future political control of the House will be mapped out in the 2000-2001 congressional reapportionment plans.
As both major presidential candidates moved toward the center, the underdog Dole campaign has attempted to stress the former Senate majority leader's great differences with Clinton in personal history and outlook.
Clinton avoided the draft during the Vietnam War. But whatever advantage Dole claimed for his World War II service and the wounds he received during fighting in Italy, he seemed to lose because of his age, which is 73. Clinton is 50.
Moderating his conservative image, Dole downplayed such issues of interest to right-wingers as abortion, homosexual rights and school prayer. While this may have been designed to make him more palatable to suburban moderates, the tactic discouraged the GOP's street troops.
Many Republicans pinned their hopes on probes launched by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who is investigating possible wrong-doing by the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in connection with a real estate deal in Arkansas in the 1980s.
These aspirations were dashed when Starr announced that if his grand jury takes any action, it won't come until after election.
The latest Dole assault on Clinton's character peaked last week when the Republican challenger attacked the president over fund-raising by the Clinton forces among Indonesian and Chinese business organizations.
Dole backed off charges of illicit fund-raising by Democrats when the Clinton campaign revealed that Dole had accepted big contributions from Cuban aliens living in Florida. For their gifts, the Democrats said, Dole helped pass laws protecting their sugar growing business.
Dole finally told audiences that Republicans were as guilty as Democrats for questionable fund-raising tactics. Jack Kemp, the GOP's vice presidential nominee, stunned the Dole crowd when he warned House Republicans against joining Dole's push for campaign finance reform.
Clinton crowded Republican territory by adopting as his own their crime, balanced budget and welfare reform issues. And the Democrats attempted to work the remaining questions to the president's benefit.
The world turned upside down for the Republicans after they took control of the House and Senate. Business demands for deregulation turned sour for the GOP when Congress, under the whip of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., began to attack the nation's environmental laws.
Gradually, the Democrats' charges that Gingrich and Dole wanted to undermine Social Security, and dismantle Medicare took root with more and more voters, who, according to still more surveys, said they did not trust Republicans to reform these two big entitlement programs.
Both major presidential candidates are longtime politicians. Both are lawyers who benefited personally from government education programs. They are both from small towns, and were raised in financially-strained households.
Both men made brilliant careers on their own.
Without a recession, without a major scandal, or the Cold War, the campaign comes down to a confrontation between a pragmatist hardened by World War II, who wants to restore treasured old values and shrink the federal establishment and a non-threatening, but personally embattled, moderate who promises to take a paring knife to bloated government programs.