AUSTIN, Texas -- OK, everybody, you know the law. If you don't vote, you can't complain. So get out and do it.

Voting whitens your teeth and sweetens your breath, and people who vote have better sex lives. This has been extensively studied, and all the researchers agree. However, there are also new studies strongly suggesting a causal link between voting and weight loss. Yes, going to the polls is more effective than dieting.

Besides, this thing is tighter than a tick -- I mean, your vote COULD make the difference. Honest to Pete, this is historic.

You may wonder why I am trying to inveigle you into participating in what we laughingly refer to as the democratic process. I know all the arguments against it. Don't vote -- it only encourages them. If the gods had meant for people to vote, they would have given us candidates. What is this geekfest? They're all lying. If I actually vote for one of them, won't I be responsible for what happens?

In regard to that last question, the answer is "no" -- you can only be held legally responsible for the government of the United States if you DON'T vote.

We also need to vote to thank them for all this fabulous entertainment. Has this been a marvelous campaign, or what? For years to come, we'll be able to produce a laugh riot simply by looking at a group of people and saying, "Dingell-Norwood."

And if I can't fool you into voting with a lot of charming piffle, let's try the truth.

I had a really bad moment on Friday. I was feeling extremely grumpy about the George Bush-DUI story because I've been arguing for years that politicians should be allowed to have private lives, and all that need concern us is what they do in office that affects our own lives. I realize that the DUI is a crime and a matter of public record, but surely we all know by now that Dubya straightened up 15 years ago, and how long IS the statute of limitations on this stuff?

"Oh, please," thinks I impatiently. "The only people who care about this now -- in addition to my idiot colleagues in the media -- are parents whose kids have been killed by drunken drivers." At which point, I heard myself and came to a complete halt.

May God and other people forgive me. I had reached precisely that point I have so often complained about in other journalists: so focused on the horse race, so keenly centered on who's ahead, who's behind, what's the strategy, how will this new thing play, that I had completely forgotten that elections are actually about real people's lives.

I know it's easy to lose track of -- sometimes politics seems like an extremely bizarre form of sport -- but it actually is about our lives. This is not something you can divorce yourself from. You can't sit and look at it as though it were a picture on the wall or a TV program you don't like. This is the stuff, the warp and the woof of our lives, and something more as well -- it is our community, our connectedness to one another.

I can review all the reasons you should care -- and it's not just because they make you pay taxes. (You can't buy a candy bar without paying taxes on it.) Your whole life is shaped by the people who get elected to public office.

They decide as much about your life as you do -- how deep you will be buried when you die, the qualifications of the people who prescribe your eyeglasses, the books that your kids learn from in school. You are touched by government every day in a swarm of ways.

And voting is your chance to influence your own life. Sort of. The connections are sometimes a little vague, I grant you. But they are just as often direct and as big as a truck.

Public policy is not some garbage that "they" do in Washington or Austin. It's your life, the quality of your life, the quality of your children's lives. It's about firefighters and police and schools and roads, about crime and punishment, tax loopholes, securities fraud, your driver's license, your marriage license, traffic, fluoridation in the water, global warming and electric wiring codes. It's about you. So vote.

And if, of course, you have arrived at this point hoping to get out of it on the grounds that you can't stand any of them and still don't know what Dingell-Norwood is ... hold your nose and hope for the best.

One of my least favorite Pundit Positions of recent days is that all the undecided voters must be nincompoops and shouldn't be encouraged. "Surely," they say, "if you had half a brain, you'd have made up your mind by now."

I had a conversation with an Undecided last week -- truly a good citizen, who finally said forlornly, "I wish I knew which one was telling the truth." For whatever my opinion is worth, they're all lying, hyping and overpromising, and the best you can do is make this as concrete as possible. You want the tax cut or the lockbox, and what difference will it make in your life?

And if you decide it on something silly like the smirk or the sighs or which one has the nicest wife -- what-the-hey, your instincts are as good as anyone else's. And let's all root for the dead guy in Missouri.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.