Teddy Filosofos, the departing executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, said the agency he inherited last May was top-heavy with bosses and staffed with well-meaning but ill-trained personnel, and he predicted that it would take at least 1 1/2 years to straighten out the problems.
Filosofos, who announced Monday that he will resign Oct. 1, said that not one but a "multitude of problems" led to the difficulties voters experienced in the Sept. 14 primary election. About 23,000 voters were forced to cast special challenged ballots because their names were not on voter rolls at the polling places.
The feisty, 54-year-old election administrator outlined his efforts to improve the election staff -- and the subsequent frustration he said he experienced -- in a long interview in his home Monday night.
Elections Board Chairman Albert J. Beveridge III said he agreed with Filosofos' basic assessment of the board. "I think the board needs to be completely reorganized. We were looking to the new executive director Filosofos to do that," Beveridge said.
Beveridge added that he believes Filosofos "has gotten us to within 75 or 80 percent of where we have to go. The next person can come in and bring it up to an adequate system."
One of his first steps after taking over in May, Filosofos said, was to try to update the city's voter registration rolls, which were missing the names of thousands of legitimately registered voters.
The only way to do that, Filosofos decided, was to check the names on the current list against those in the files the board keeps of the cards voters fill out when registering.
By the third day of this effort, he said, election employes started bringing him trays of cards that contained names that were not on the master computer list. "They were bringing me three trays a day with 2,000 cards in each tray. That's 6,000 cards a day. I was going bananas," Filosofos said.
He said he soon found that there were at least 50,000 names in the card file that did not appear on the city's computerized voter list. Conversely, he said, there were another 50,000 names on the voter list for which he could find no cards.
In addition, he said, he found 7,000 new registrations "just lying around the office," which had never been entered into the board's computer system.
In those early days, Filosofos said, he would often give directives to his staff, only to find days later that his orders had not been carried out.
"My staff was the best you could have," he said. "They just didn't have proper training, and I didn't have time to give it to them."
Filosofos said he began opening all the mail that came to the elections board personally after he found that many of the letters of inquiry and complaint sent to the board were not reaching him.
"I had 22 people working under me and only about six of them were workers. The rest were bosses. You had more chiefs than Indians and nobody was doing anything," he said.
Meanwhile yesterday, Beveridge said he is seeking someone who can take Filosofos' place.
"I'd do anything in my power to get him to stay through Nov. 2," when the city's general election will be held, Beveridge said.
Filosofos said he is under a great deal of pressure to stay at least through the election. He said "anything is possible," but that his decision to leave is unchanged.
Filosofos said the election process here has been so jumbled and confused for so long, it would take at least 1 1/2 years to straighten it out. He said he doubted city officials and the public were willing to give him that much time.
"I don't feel comfortable here. No matter what you do, you're going to end up on the short end of the stick," he said. Filosofos said he found himself constantly "fighting time and priorities" to rectify the board's problems.
Filosofos said he believed the city will have to change its laws and do another complete review of the voter rolls if it is to have smooth elections.
He said that to correct flaws in the rolls, the city, after November, should do a mail check of all voters whose names are currently in the card files to ensure that those people still live in the city.
Filosofos said the current law should be changed so that the elections board can be informed on a regular basis of the people who die in the District so that their names can be purged from the voter rolls. Voters should also be required to inform the elections board when they change addresses.
A burly, tough-talking man who bears a large scar across his face from the time he was stabbed when he was a foreman at a General Motors plant near Buffalo, Filosofos plans to return to his old job as deputy commissioner for elections in Erie County, N.Y.
"We're just delighted," said Erie County Commissioner Edward J. Mahoney of Filosofos' planned return.