Like detectives pursuing clusive quarry, a team of clerks at the D.C. Board of Elections is looking - with only spotty success - for winners to fill 84 of the 367 seats on the city's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.
Nearly a month after the Nov. 3 municipal election, the board's employees continued all last week to comb voter registration lists to confirm the eligibility of apparent ANC winnrs.
They were preparing to contact 39 such winners who still don't know they've won, so the winners - if they want the unpaid jobs ' can visit the board's office to sign a form making them eligible to be sworn into office.
The board itself must decide the winners of 16 tic votes, including one somewhat bizarre instance in which it must determine which of two women named Susan Spaulding - mother and daughter - got six write-in votes. Then the board must decide whether Spaulding or David Smith, who also got six write-in votes, will be declared the winner of ANC seat 3D6. Ties are brokern by drawing lots.
To Mary S. Rodgers, the city's election administrator, "the ANC election is in one sense the smallest election we've got, but in another sense it's the largest and most difficult." It draws the fewest total votes, but for the largest number of offices with the gratest task of certification, she explained.
In some districts, several hundred votes were cast for candidates whose names were printed on the ballots. In others, where there were no formal candidates, a single write-in vote was enough to bring election.
In three ANC districts, interest was so lacking that not a single vote was cast, leaving the posts vacant for the next two years.
The ANCs - there are 36 throughout the city - are an experiment in grassroots government, introduced in 1975 under the city's home rule charter.
By law, the ANCS review projects and proposals by the city government affecting the geographic areas encompassed by the commissions.
For neighborhoods whose residents feel neglected by the city government. ANCs offer a sort of hot line into the District Building. Ironically, the city's poorer wards - such as ward eight in far southeast - generally show the least interest in the ANC voting. In ward three, west of Rock Creek Park, the interest and the numberof votes cast was high.
Reflecting this, candidates filed in advance of the election for almost all the ANC seats in neighborhoods with citizens who are afluent. In other parts of the city, where no candidates were listed on he ballots for many seats, votes wrote in name.
It is these unannounced write-in candidates whose identities are being sought by the election board's staff. "Look here," Mary Rodgers said "Thompson got two write-in votes Just Thompson - no first name!
Now, tell me, who is Thompson?"
In seeking to fill the ANC posts, the elections board faces a deadline. Winners must be certified in time for their swearing in on Jan. 2. By yesterday, the membership of only 11 of the 36 ANCs had been officially established.
Each of the ANC seats is identified by two numbers with a letter sandwiched between. Anc seat 3D6, for which the two Susan Spauldings and David Smith are tied, is translated this way: ward 3, commission D. single-member district 6.
At the elections board, the search for winners is being led by Tuere Marshall, a secretary who was pressed into temporary duty as a supervisor of ballot counting.
Seated at a desk piled with file folders, she studies tally sheets yesterday, shorting out winners, possible winners and clear losers. She likened her job to skip-tracing, the search by detectives and bill collectors for people who move, leaving no forwarding address.
In two districts, she said she was unable to find winners who, as the law requires, are registered to vote within the district boundaries. In district 1A9, someone named Barbara Anderson won the seat with 13 write-in votes, suggesting that she waged an organized campaign. But there is no Barbara Anderson registered in district 1A9. Likewise, Charles Harris won in district 5B12, but nobody by that name is qualified to serve.
One big problem in filling 24 of the seats must be faced this week by the Board of Elections itself. The board must decide, in cases where the apparent winner is not qualified to serve, whether the second-highest vote getter can be certified.
In a legal opinion, Winfred Mundle, the board's general counsel, has asserted that there is no basis for certifying anybody but the top vote getter.
If the board adopts his recommendation, that would leave 24 seats vacant for the full two-year terms of the newly elected ANCs, even though there are people prepared to serve.
Among those who were the top vote-getters for several ANC seats, but who are not qualified to serve in any of them, are Minnie Woodson and Barbara Lett Simmons.
Both are members of the D.C. Board of Education who were reelected to those posts in the same Nov. 8 election at which the ANC balloting took place. For unexplained reasons, numerous voters wrote the names of Woodson and Simmons on ANC ballots. Between them, they "won" seats in at least five different ANC districts.