The chairman of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, saying that "waving a magic wand" could not solve problems within the city's election office, pleaded with a City Council committee yesterday to approve the reregistration of all District of Columbia voters before the Sept. 14 primary elections.
"If some effort isn't made quickly" to reregister voters, said Chairman Albert J. Beveridge III, the September primary could be swamped with the same problems encountered last November when thousands of voters had difficulty voting and thousands of others were left off voting rolls.
However, council member William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5), chairman of the Government Operations committee, which concluded two days of hearings on the state of the city's election operations yesterday, rejected Beveridge's request. Instead, he recommended that new employes be hired to straighten out the tangled voter registration records.
"There's not enough time between now and September for even emergency legislation (to allow for reregistration of the estimated 280,000 voters)," Spaulding said. "The problems that have occurred are technical. They are going to have to get some new people."
On Thursday, a consultant's study commissioned by the committee reported that as many as 50,000 persons may have trouble voting in September because of incomplete, missing or inaccurate records within the election office.
About 15,000 of those were inadvertently lost from computer tapes. Another 30,000 had missing or incorrect party designations, which determines whether they can vote in a party primary, and 4,000 others had uncorrected address changes. City election officials said they had no way of determining how many properly registered voters there are on the rolls.
Yesterday, the committee heard from nine election office employes, including data processing clerks, who spoke of a wide variety of problems with incorrect computer lists, staff shortages and poorly filed records that contributed to the circumstances.
Former D.C. Auditor Matthew S. Watson, hired by the committee for its inquiry, led the council members and election staff through a series of office problems uncovered in the study, which began late last year.
Among the problems, Watson said, were the fact that four out of seven staff positions assigned exclusively to election prepartion have been vacant since last summer.
In addition, he said, no accurate record--and in some cases no records at all--were kept on voter registration cards of name and address changes. Some corrections that have not been made date back to 1979, according to Lillian Fitzgerald, who was the acting supervisor of last year's election.
Watson said data processing employes used an untested computer program that caused thousands of names to be dropped from the master roll, and, he said, there were no clear lines of authority either on election day on during the day-to-day operations of the office.
During a break in the hearing, Watson expressed exasperation with the answers provided by election board employes.
"No one is taking responsibility--'This isn't my ship. Not my job'--No one apparently is talking to anyone else," he said. The committee is expected to make specific recommendations on the September primary to the full council within a few weeks.