Howard Slade, 43, a voter in Ward 5, said he has seen only three of the ward's nine candidates for City Council. Slade said one man drove through his neighborhood soliciting votes over a loudspeaker. Two other candidates went door to door, smiling and passing out brochures, he said.

But so far, Slade - a resident of Precinct 66, which had the city's highest voter turnout in the 1974 Democratic primary - said he knows very little about the nine candidates, including incumbent William Spaulding, who are competing for votes in the Sept. 12 primary election.

"What I usually do is wait until a couple of days before the election," Slade told a visitor last week. "Then I spread out all the campaign literature on the dining room table and I pick a candidate. It's sort of like pulling names at random out of a brown paper bag."

The Democratic primary will be an election on which many Ward 5 voters are likely to select the candidate they vote for largely on the basis of chance.

The campaign for the Ward 5 City Council seat has not followed classic patterns. Candidates have not met with large numbers of voters to vigorously debate the issues. In many of the forums that have been held, candidates often have outnumbered the voters in the audience.

Instead, campaigning in large part has been geared to flooding communities that have good records for voter turnout with posters and brochures. Toward the end of the campaign, most candidates are planning to telephone several thousand voters. And on election day poll watchers for each candidate will solicit more votes.

"What this campaign really boils down to is numbers," said Ervin Phelps, 27, an employe of a printing company. "If I can get enough people to go down to the polls and vote for me, I win. It's as simple as that."

Phelps, who said he speaks the sign language of the deaf "fluently," maintains that he has the backing of some 2,000 deaf persons who are registered voters in Ward 5, where Gallaudet College for the deaf is located.

Between his deaf supporters and 1,000 other voters that Phelps said were guaranteed before he entered the race, he believes he will have the edge on election day.

In the 1974 Democratic primary, the 11,543 votes cast in Ward 5 were also split nine ways. William Spaulding defeated second-runner Leaford C. William by a narrow margin of only 64 votes. Five of the nine candidates in that race polled more than 1,000 votes.

"I believe that my three years of experience on the council clearly puts me at the head of the pack," Spaulding said recently. "All I am doing is asking voters to look at my record. Look at the University of the District of Columbia, which I helped to create. Look at law that took taxes off meals for the elderly. I simply want to continue the work I've started.

Robert Artisst, a faculty member at the University of D.C., lost the 1974 primary to Spaulding by 70 votes. But Artisst maintains that he will win this year's primary because "most of the voters I've talked with say they don't plan to make the same mistake twice by voting for Mr. Spaulding."

The red and white Artisst brochure, bearing the same portrait he used in the 1974 campaign, is replete with activities and organizations Artisst has been involved in. "Bob did not go behind the scenes after the last election," the pamphlet declares. "Bob Artisst has involved himself in the daily details . . . not merely giving lip-service."

Juanita Kennedy Morgan, 63, a disabled public school teacher and a realtor, was the first Ward 5 candidate to show up last week at a candidates' forum held at the Capitol East Natatorium by a coalition of senior citizen groups for candidates from Wards 5 and 6.

If elected, Morgan promised the group of eight voters she would take action to curb abuse of the elderly and to create a program to provide homemakers for bedridden elderly citizens.

Morgan's campaign is being built on her involvement in community and civic activities over the past decade. She said that most of the voters who cast 1,910 votes for her in the 1974 election also support her current campaign.

Roland Rier, who was endorsed by the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, a coalition of 145 labor unions, said he began door-to-door campaigning in Ward 5 last winter. Before election day, he said the labor unions will provide him with volunteers to run a major telephoning campaign.

"I think the voters want a candidate younger than the incumbent," said Rier, 33, a public high school teacher who said he has already reached 10,000 of the 30,000 voters in Ward 5 with his campaign literature. "They are upset over what happened in the last election and they don't want it to happen again."

Rier, who also ran in the 1974 primary, said that voters had felt they were cheated out of the "best candidate" in that race because the vote had been split so many ways.

Robert King, who is on leave of absence from his job as director of social planning for the 14th Street Project Area Committee, said that he has based his campaign on "personal contact." King's goal is not to reach every voter in Ward 5, but he said his efforts are geared to personally reach 7,000 to 10,000 voters with hopes of receiving at least 5,000 votes on Sept. 12.

"I want the voter to see, hear and smell me," King, who is known for his community work in the 14th street corridor."I want to tell them personally that I care about their problems and that they can count on me to do something about them once I get in office."

John M. Thornton, 64, the only blind person to run for D.C. public office in recent years, said volunteers from 10 organizations he is affiliated with will help distribute his campaign literature and telephone voters.

"I believe my record of community service speaks well for me," said Thorton, who has led a drive against rising utility rates and other community problems. "I've been in enough activities in this area for people to know what I can do. All I want is the opportunity." Thornton formerly was a lobbyist for the United Steel Workers of America.

Bernice Just, a member of the executive committee of the D.C. Law Revision Commission, hopes to distribute 30,000 brochures by election day with the help of volunteers.

In addition, Just - as well as the other candidates - has taken advantage of free broadcast time on three television stations and four radio stations.

"I have no miracle solutions to the problems," she said in a recent appearance on WDVM-TV. "I love this city and I view election the Ward 5 council seat as an opportunity to work for fairness, balance and accountability in government."

Virgil Thompson, who resigned his job as a D.C. corrections officer to run for the Ward 5 City Council seat, said that his campaign has been made almost exclusively a door-to-door affair.

"I have a problem with forums because they obviously don't reach the people," said Thompson. "And I refuse to just have a poster campaign."