Public officials elsewhere may be disturbed about voters' apathy toward Tuesday's election, but here in Danville, a city of 42,000 near the Illinois-Indiana border, political apathy is mandated by municipal ordinance and enforced by roving inspectors.
At a City Council session three weeks ago, Danville officials announced a crackdown against violators of a local ordinance prohibiting the display in residential areas of political signs, banners or posters. (Commercial messages are also banned.)
The mayor noted at the meeting that yard signs have been a traditional means of political expression here at election time, but the town's chief building inspector pointed out that such signs might be offensive to neighbors.
Immediately afterward, patrols of building inspectors began cruising neighborhoods to enforce the ban. The local media told of one woman who, when ordered to take down a sign promoting her chosen candidates, thanked the inspectors for letting her off with a warning rather than the $100 fine set by the ordinance.
There has been some grumbling that the ban is unconstitutional, but people here, with a few exceptions, have reacted to the crackdown apathetically.
Among the exceptions are Dan Crane and Terry Bruce.
Crane, a conservative Republican dentist from Danville, and Bruce, a moderately liberal Democratic state senator from Olney, about 120 miles to the south, are battling down to the wire for the open House seat here in Illinois' 22nd Congressional District.
Both men had been counting on an outburst of yard signs here to stir up interest in the election and thus help them get out their voters Tuesday.
"You've got to get people talking about it ahead of time," said Bill Mencarow, a top aide in Crane's campaign. "If a guy wakes up Tuesday morning and all of a sudden finds out about the election, you're not going to get him."
To guard against that, both Crane and Bruce have spent months construcing elaborate organizations of paid and volunteer workers, whose sole job is to make sure that their supporters get to the polls on election day.
Both candidates are still racing around the district, a sprawling rural segment of east-central Illinois, at breakneck pace, and both are running every radio, TV and newspaper advertisement they can squeeze out of their remaining campaign funds.
But now, in the last week, the heart of each campaign is an exhausting and largely invisible push to find and produce votes.
"There's no substitute for organization," Bruce said after his victory in the Democratic primary in March.
"I mean, you know, you can have the world's most handsome candidate, or some guy who's got a brilliant answer on every issue, and the other guy's going to just build an organization that brings every one of his voters to the polls. And that organization is going to win it, that's how it works."
That same message was drilled into Dan Crane last winter, when he went to Milwaukee to attend a candidate's school run by a conservative political organizatin called The committee for the Survival of a Free Congress.
Before he left the Milwaukee seminar, Crance was required to calculate a vote goal that would win him the 22nd's seat. Assuming that about 180,000 of the district's 470,000 residents would vote, Crane set a goal of about 92,000 votes.
He was then told to break the total down into a reasonable figure for each of the 22nd's 21 counties, and then for each township in each county, and finally for each precinct of each township. Thus, at the outset of the campaign, Crance knew precisely how many votes he needed to win in each of the district's 615 precincts.
(A precinct is a geographic entity containing about 2,000 voters. In a city like Danville, it might cover a few blocks. In a city like Danville, it might cover a few blocks. In the rural stretches of the district, a whole town and miles of surrounding farmland might make up a single precinct.)
Bruce, of course was making the same calaculations. Once the two men had finished the theoretical business of predicting their votes in each precinct, they got down to the practical task of procuding that many votes on election day.
The first job was to acquire, from each of the district's county clerks, lists of registered voters and of those who had voted in the 1976 election. In some counties, the names came complete with telephone number, and were listed by streets (making the lists easy guides for door-to-door work). But in most eases, campaign volunteers had to put in hours looking up numbers or rearranging the rosters to make them useful.
These lists became the hunting ground. About two weeks ago, campaign workers began calling or visiting everybody on every list to find out how each voter was leaning this year.
Crane volunteers were told to move as quickly as possible through the lists, marking definite Crane voters with a plus sign and definite Bruce supporters with a minus.
In precincts where the number of plus signs exceeded the vote goal, the lists were tempocarily put aside. When a precinct was under its quota, volunteers waited a week and then called back the "undecideds" to see if they had made up their minds.
By the start of this week, the final canvass was under way - this one directed solely at favorable voters. The volunteer was instructed to find out how and when each voter planned to get to the polls next Tuesday. (The Crane campaign will call back on election day if the voter hasn't shown up by the time he or she is expected to.)
"The idea is to leave no stone unturned," said Rick Neal, an organizer from the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, who has been working with the Crane campaign.
"You've got to find every single person out there who's going to vote for you. And then you've got to be absolutely sure that he really shows up to vote. You pretty much have to do that to win any election."
Since the task of turning every favorable stone requires thousands of hours of volunteer work, both candidates set out more than a year ago to assemble the worker networks now engaged in finding and getting out the vote.
Bruce had a head start of sorts because of his endorsement from the teachers' union. That ensured him of a supply of politically active backers in almost every town in the district. Crane was able to build on the remnants of the 22nd's Reagan-president organization from 1976.
Still, both men have made countless trips to the homes and offices of people who might be convinced to work the telephones during the last few weeks of the campaign.
"Some people walk right in and volunteer," said Neal, a campaign veteran. "But usually the candidate has to go out and find those types."
A side effect of the intensive get-out-the-vote canvassing was that the effort provided both camps the most complete poll to date on the propensities of the 22nd's voters. And both camps reported one striking -result from that poll: about a third of the voters were still undecided.
The 22nd's election, it seemed, would be a horse race down to the last day.
Next: The Last Day