On the heels of the lowest election turnout in 50 years, there is a study by the General Accounting Office saying that voter alienation is not to blame for the problem but, rather, cumbersome election procedures.

The GAO suggests setting registration deadlines on or close to Election Day, establishing toll-free numbers for absentee ballot requests and allowing voting by mail.Since the recent national election's turnout matched that of 1986 as the lowest in nearly half a century, something clearly needs to be done. The United States ranks 20th among 21 democracies in turnout for national elections, with only Switzerland doing worse.

According to the GAO report, it is common to assume that Americans distrust politicians and perceive government to be unresponsive, ineffectual or corrupt.

To whatever extent this claim is accurate, it is apparently not the reason for low voter turnout.

"Interest in politics," says the report, "is consistently higher in the United States than in the European democracies."

The irony is, for instance, that only 14 percent of Italians trust their government, while their voter turnout is the highest.

Non-voters, of course, are blacklisted in some countries. A non-voter in Italy may have his name posted outside the town hall and his identification papers stamped with this notice: "Did not vote for five years."

In any event the GAO report recommends automatic voter registration, arguing that the United States would see a significant increase in voter participation.

Whatever form the overhaul may take, it is clear that the reform of registration procedures is long overdue.