E.J. (Jay) Jarvis II wanted to get a jump on his campaign this fall for a House of Delegates seat from Arlington, so he announced his candidacy last December.

Shortly afterward, he set about collecting signatures from 250 registered Arlington voters, the minimum necessary to file as a candidate. Then he noticed something was amiss with the nominating petitions he had received from the county clerk's office. The election date, according to the petitions, was Nov. 4.

Odd, thought Jarvis, who was collecting signatures for the primary election Sept. 8. A quick call to the State Board of Elections disclosed that Jarvis had been given petitions for the last general election -- not for the coming primary.

"The problem was I announced so early that they gave me copies for last year's election," said Jarvis, 36, who is an insurance underwriter. "I didn't mind it. It just gives me a chance to meet more people."

Today, Jarvis is back on the campaign trail, collecting signatures in the sweltering July heat and trying to meet his goal of talking to 10,000 voters before the primary.

Jarvis is seeking a Republican nomination from the 22nd District in Arlington and is among eight candidates -- four Republicans and four Democrats -- in the primary race so far. The official filing book for the primary opens Aug. 3 and closes Aug. 7, barely a month before the primary.

In Northern Virginia, there also are primary contests scheduled in the four newly created districts in Fairfax County, one in Loudoun County and another in Prince William County. Only Alexandria, where two Republicans and two Democrats have filed for the two seats from the 21st District, has scheduled no primary elections so far.

In Arlington, party officials are predicting one of the lowest voter turnouts for a primary in recent memory, even though both parties have contested races.

For Arlington Republicans, in fact, it will be their first House of Delegates primary in 30 years. The Democrats, veterans at primary battles, last had a House contest four years ago.

The eight candidates vying for the three 22nd District seats estimate the turnout could be as low as 4,000 to 5,000 voters. The reasons, they say, are simple.

For one thing, they note, the primary election falls on the first day of school and the first day after the long Labor Day weekend -- when people are simply not preoccupied with rushing to the polls.

Of more importance, they contend, is the uncertainty over whether the primary or the general election, not set for Nov. 3, will actually be held as scheduled because of challenges to the Virginia General Assembly's redistricting plan.

The U.S. Justice Department already has rejected the redistricting plan for the state Senate, contending that it discriminates against black voters in Norfolk. There are no state Senate contests in Northern Virginia this year.

The Justice Department is scheduled to rule on the House plan Aug. 16 -- barely three weeks before the primary. In addition, a three-judge federal panel is scheduled to hear challenges to the House plan Aug. 13, six days after the primary, filing deadline, although no one will predict when a ruling in the case can be expected.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all the confusion, candidates are continuing their campaigns, which in Arlington have been low-key.

"I haven't gone (campaigning) door-to-door in a long time," said Democratic incumbent Mary A. Marshall, 59, who was first elected to the House in 1965. "But I might for this primary because it's on Sept. 8 and almost everyone I talk to knows nothing about it.

"All sorts of devoted citizens who have never missed an election are going to miss this one."

For most of the Arlington candidates, campaigning so far has been pretty much limited to plotting strategy -- lining up precinct workers and other supporters, soliciting contributions and ordering brochures and bumper stickers.

"When I ran two years ago, I didn't start campaigning, until late July because a lot of people were out of town," said Ted Lattanzio, 34, deputy director of the state and local affairs division of the National Rifle Association.

Lattanzio, a Republican, says he expects to begin his real campaign push early next month. He hopes to match his previous record of 13,000 door-to-door stops and hit the trail of civic association meetings.

"It's not possible to stir up and maintain general public interest in a primary so soon," said two-term Democrat Elise B. Heinz, 46, whose "floater" seat shared by Arlington and Alexandria was eliminated under the recent redistricting. "This is not going to be one of the major political events of the century.

"I think what everybody is going to try to do is figure out who the handful of people are who are actually going to vote in this primary and then go convince them to vote for (them)," added Heinz, whose decision to seek reelection to an at large Arlington seat had caused friction with the other three Democratic incumbents.

The Republicans, none of whom has held elective office before, will have to work ahrder to defeat incumbents whose names are better known than theirs, says Republican candidate Michael H. Steinmetz, a lobbyist for the Public Service Research Council who specializes in "labor relations in the public sector."

At 23, Steinmetz is the youngest candidate in the Arlington House campaign. In the last few weeks, Steinmetz said, he has devoted about 30 hours a week to his campaign and has knocked on 100 doors. "I don't think (the Democrats) are that formidable," Steinmetz said as he gathered signatures at a Metro stop recently. "I would say my qualifications are at least as good as theirs."

Democrat James F. Almand, 32, seeking his third term in the House, says he plans to campaign heavily in apartment buildings, in addition to making the usual stops at neighborhood meetings and swimming pools.

"I'm contacting (Democratic) committee people who know who in their precinct are the people who vote all the time so we can contact them," Almand said at a recent Young Democrats barbecue he hosted at his home.

Republican Georgia L. Delyannis, 48, is taking a cue from Aland and trying to focus her campaign on consistent voters.

"Each person has to make sure they get their people out to vote for them," said Delyannis, who has been active in charitable and community affairs in Arlington. "People are confused when you start talking to them about primaries in September and then there's this waiting for the (redistricting) decisions."

Like several other candidates, Democrat Warren G. Stambaugh, 36, seeking his fifth House term, is simply enjoying the summer. "There's not much to do at this point," Stambaugh said recently. "Most of the activity takes place two weeks before the election. Going door-to-door, in terms of a primary, can be very time-consuming and wasteful because not that many people will vote.

"I'm concentrating on mailing and telephoning right now and getting my people together."

In other areas, particularly Fairfax County, the campaigning has not been so quiet. In the 49th District, six Republicans and five Democrats already have filed for the House primary, and in the 52nd District, five Republicans and four Democrats have entered the primary race. One Fairfax candidate reported recently that he spent an entire weekend pounding on at least 800 doors.

But in Arlington, election fever doesn't seem to be catching yet.

"Because of the time of the year, (a primary) doesn't generate as much interest in any way, shape or form," said Arlington Republican Committee Chairman Jace West, noting that primaries are usually held in June.

Sharon Davis, chairperson of the Arlington Democratic Committee, agrees. "This is not the type of campaign you would see if the primary were held in the spring," she said. "People are still away and most groups suspend their activities until the end of the summer. So the races tend to be something which don't really pick up until later."