CHICAGO, NOV. 4 -- Beryl Fredell was driving home from her sales job at a Peoria cheese shop one afternoon last week when she heard a radio interview with a man who urged voters to scrawl "nobody" in the space reserved for write-in candidates on Tuesday's ballot.

"He said they would have to count it and the message would get across on some of these races," she said. "And you know what? I kind of agree with him."

Fredell, who voted for George Bush and worries that downstate communities like hers get shortchanged in state and federal funding, said she hated almost everything about this year's elections. Like dozens of other Illinois voters interviewed earlier this fall and then re-interviewed during the waning days of the state's most extensive and hard-fought campaign in years, Fredell is tired of the negative advertising, tired of sound-bite discourse and, tellingly, tired of the candidates themselves.

"It seems all they're doing is running down each other," she said.

These Illinois voters expressed deeply rooted cynicism about politics and politicians when first contacted by Washington Post interviewers during Labor Day weekend, and they will make their ballot choices grudgingly on Tuesday. Faced with selecting a governor, a senator and a host of other officials, including three state Supreme Court justices, voters must choose from a legion of candidates who have clogged the airwaves with slashing, partisan ads in recent weeks.

Some of the voters interviewed said they occasionally detected exchanges on education, taxes, health care and lottery spending. But even when the candidates spoke to these issues, voters said they often didn't believe what they heard.

"They promise so many beautiful things," said Gladys Zamorano, 57, a nurse who lives in Lyons, a western suburb of Chicago. "If they would just keep one-fourth of what they promise, I don't think people would lose their faith."

At the top of the ticket, Illinois voters are choosing between Rep. Lynn Martin (R) and Sen. Paul Simon (D) for the U.S. Senate seat, and gubernatorial rivals Attorney General Neil F. Hartigan (D) and Secretary of State Jim Edgar (R). All have been in the public eye for years, yet each -- except perhaps Simon -- has been attempting to convince skeptical and unhappy voters that he or she represents the best opportunity for change. Statewide candidates are expected to spend a record-breaking $40 million on their races this year.

Voters seem least conflicted about Simon, who enjoys a healthy lead in the polls and appeared scarcely to be breaking a sweat during this weekend's final campaigning as he shored up support in traditionally Democratic areas.

But the candidacies of Hartigan and Edgar, who remain in a dead heat in recent polls, stirred profound unease among most of those interviewed.

The election is even more complicated in Chicago, where the third-party Harold Washington slate, which is all black and named after the late Democratic mayor, targeted Hartigan for defeat because he supported Richard M. Daley for Chicago mayor over a black candidate in 1987. Both Hartigan, who is from Chicago, and Edgar, from the downstate community of Charleston, are fighting for support from black voters.

Edgar, who was scheduled to appear with President Bush last Friday, asked him to stay away after he vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990. Hartigan was quick to link Edgar to Bush during an appearance at an Operation PUSH candidates' forum Saturday.

But Lindbergh Askew, 37, a black police officer, said he plans to vote a straight Democratic ticket because he considers the Washington forces divisive. "It's made white voters fearful and there's a lot of tension in the air," he said. "Harold Washington would be turning over in his grave if he saw the party with his name on it was entirely black. He worked within the Democratic Party." He said his wife, Carlean, is leaning more toward supporting Washington candidates.

Noreen Condon, 58, a white stock market analyst from Chicago, said Democratic precinct leaders have been frightened by the presence of the Washington ticket. "It makes people really nervous," she said.

Elections officials are already worried that disenchantment with the process, last-minute disputes and the normal dynamics of an off-year election will depress voter turnout. On the outskirts of Chicago, one eye-catching red-and-white billboard declares "Vote for No One," and more than a few voters appear to be listening. "I will vote, but probably not vote for governor," said Judy Roseboom, a Peoria homemaker unhappy that both candidates favor abortion rights.

Gerald McDonald, 41, an engineer from Lyons, said in September he will have to work the rest of his life to help his three children afford homes. He was bitter. "I've made my choice," he said, noting that he's voted in every election since he came home from the Vietnam War. "I'm not voting for any of them because they're all jerks."

The source of such pessimism is often indistinguishable from voters' unhappiness with an economic situation that appears to be slipping while elected officials squabble over unpalatable solutions.

No one, for instance, seems to have placed much faith in Hartigan's pledge to roll back a 20 percent, two-year state income tax increase earmarked for education. "After Bush's 'no new taxes' {pledge}, I'm very skeptical about anyone who says that," said Melody Spencer, 27, a new mother who lives in downstate Greenville. "I think it's just campaign hype."

Marty Ryczek, a Chicago elementary school music teacher, called Hartigan's oft-repeated promise "unrealistic" and said he will vote for Edgar, who favors keeping the income tax as is. "At least you know where you stand with him," Ryczek said.

Even voters who said they plan to vote for Hartigan doubted the wisdom of his tax stand. Lon Feia, 33, whose property taxes doubled last year, has already cast an absentee ballot for Hartigan but feels he is making the same mistake Bush did. "Hey, we're not stupid out here," said Feia, who owns a small company. " 'Read my lips' is a joke. Don't lie to us."

Barbara Salvato, a homemaker who voted for Michael S. Dukakis in 1988, plans to vote for Edgar and Simon because she feels a Republican would be more effective in the state capital and a Democrat more effective in Washington. "It's a matter of compromise and being practical about who's going to be able to do the job," she said.

Salvato was paying little attention to the election when she was first interviewed in September. Now, like virtually every other voter re-interviewed, she expressed sharp unhappiness with the way the races have played out. Anti-incumbent sentiment here has turned anti-politician as voters struggled to absorb a final-weekend barrage of harsh political advertising.

"It discredits their whole campaign and their whole effort," said Randy Harms, 28, of suburban Rosemont. "As soon as you form an opinion on one, the other comes on TV two minutes later and criticizes him. It would be very refreshing to see a candidate get up before his country and say: 'These are the problems; this is why I think I can do the job better than my opponent.' "

"I can't believe how negatively candidates treat each other," said Jean Rasler, 60, a retired Greenville homemaker. "It's to the point where I let all the TV ads go in one ear and right out the other."

The disgust is directed at more than just Tuesday's choices. Jim Van DeVeer, a Peoria businessman who said in September that he worries that minimum-wage jobs are coming to dominate the marketplace, favors term limits and has already voted absentee for Edgar and Simon. But he is one Illinois voter whose cynicism is too deeply rooted to be erased by one election cycle.

"All we see on TV around here is one guy saying how bad the other guy is," he said. "They're right. They're both bad."

Special correspondent Lauren Ina contributed to this report.