Trivia time - which of the following areas has the lowest voter turnout:

A. The Soviet Union.B. Western Europe.

C. The United States.

The answer is the United States, the land of the free and home of the brave - as well as many lazy or apathetic non-voters.

Only about half the eligible Americans vote in presidential elections and the percentage has constantly dropped for almost 40 years. The rate has dropped even worse for non-presidential elections.

Meanwhile, in most European countries the turnout rate is above 90 percent - as it is in the Soviet Union.

Of course in those countries, voter registration - if required at all - is often much easier and can often be done at the same time as voting. Some countries' political parties go door-to-door to register voters; some countries make it a crime not to vote; and some declare holidays or have elections on Sundays to make getting away from work to vote easier.

Congress worries about low voter turnout - especially because members of Congress depend on re-election by increasingly apathetic voters.

So Congress is showing renewed interest this year in finding ways to improve turnout.

The most recent action came last week when the House approved a bill to force polls nationwide to close at the same time.

That comes because of two situations unique to the United States - many time zones nationwide and broadcast news media that sometimes project winners of races before all the polls close.

That was shown most dramatically in 1980 when Jimmy Carter conceded to Ronald Reagan before the polls closed on the West Coast. Stories spread that Democrats standing in line to vote went home when they heard the announcement - and several Democratic candidates for Congress may have lost their races because of it. Such stories are a congressman's worst nightmare.

Reps. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and Jim Hansen, R-Utah, have also introduced separate but similar bills they say would improve turnout. Their bills would lengthen House terms from two years to four - so elections would not come so often.

Other bills floating in Congress would allow voter registration on the same day as elections, or allow more registration by mail (Utah is one of the relatively few places that allows that).

But political scientists such as Herb Asher and Herb Weisberg at Ohio State University suggest that such institutional reforms may not really encourage many more people to vote.

They note that voter turnout has continually decreased despite such reforms as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which helped minorities vote by prohibiting poll taxes; an amendment to allow 18-year-olds to vote; and liberalization of residency and registration requirements.

Among the reasons they give for continued low turnout are that more voters now are either very old (people live longer) or very young (because of high numbers of baby boomers) and they are the two groups with the lowest turnout historically.

Also, people identify less strongly with political parties now and think of themselves more as independents. Studies show that the weaker the party affiliation, the less likely one is to vote.

And party strength and role has declined because of direct presidential primaries and because candidates can run campaigns through TV and other means without depending on parties for extensive grassroots labor and organization.

The trick may be to get people to vote just once, and have them feel that it made a difference. Studies show the best indicator of whether someone will vote in the future is whether they voted in the past.

For example, Weisberg tells of a time when he and a friend decided at the last minute to vote for a controversial candidate. She won by just one vote. "We were sure we had elected her. You didn't have to convince us that our vote counted, and no one had to drag us to the polls again."

Americans can vote in open elections - many just don't. Until some way is found to convince them they should, they are no better off than people in countries without such freedom - where freedom and free choice are turned over to others, too.