With the election only a week away, the District of Columbia City Council moved yesterday to clear up two errors on next Tuesday's election ballot.
The Council voted, 12 to 1, to invoke emergency powers and, in a separate action, instructed the Board of Elections and Ethics to reword the affected part of the ballot - a step the Council concluded just last Friday that it was legally powerless to do.
Mayor Walter E Washington promptly signed yesterday's Council measures into law, saying they would "permit a ballot that would reflect the Council's intent."
The errors - caused by the Council and not the elections board - are the ommissions of two short but vital phrases in proposals by the Council to amend the city's homerule charter by granting voters the rights of referendum and recall.
Yesterday's actions replaced uncertainty with a temporary state of confusion, since election officials said 200,000 ballots have been printed and it is too late to have them reprinted. The ballots are of a special type that can be counted by electronic scanning devices.
Shari B. Kharasch, chairman of the elections board, said it may be necessary to have a paper, hand-counted ballot, either a replace the ballots already printed or to supplement them.
Kharasch said staff officials will continue to explore the situation today, and will report their findings to a meeting of the elections board this afternoon when a decision may be made.
The election is chiefly to elect members of the city's school board and advisory neighborhood commissions.
Errors the Council acted to correct involve ballot questions, which will ask voters whether they want to give themselves the powers to initiate legislation by referendum and to unseat elected public officials by a process known as recall.
In the two-step process of adopting the election question last spring, someone on the Council staff accidentally dropped three little words - "in each of" - from two places in the wording proposed for the ballot.
The amendment should have read that 5 per cent or more of the city's registered voters "in each of" five or more wards could petition the city to hold a referendum election. Likewise, 10 per cent "in each of" five or more wards could petition for the recall of an official who has been elected on a citywide basis.
As the ballots were printed. Council members say the proposed procedure would permit a strongly organized group in small part of the city to force a vote.
The omissions came to light when a sharp-eyed member of an advisory neighborhood commission read the ballot wording as printed in the D.C. Register, the city's weekly compendium of legal notices.
Last Tuesday, the Council passed emergency legislation intended to correct the ballot but the mayor's advisers regarded it as being in legally defective form.
The Council met for nearly an hour Friday in a special session and concluded it did not have the legal power to waive a requirement that ballots cannot be changed within 30 days of an election.
Yesterday, Council member David Clark (D-one) introduced the measures that would do just that. He did not explain what impelled him.
Council member Arrington Dixon (D-four), who cast the only vote against the measures, contended the late change in the ballot would set a bad precedent.
Council Chairman Sterling Tucker disagreed, saying the measure in the erroneous form proposed on the printed ballots is "somewhat fraudulent.
"By saying that we can correct it later may, in my view, compound the confusion," Tucker said. "Let's acknowledge our error. Let's correct it as best we can."