Delegates to the D.C. Statehood Constitutional Convention are overwhelmingly opposed to removing the constitution from the Nov. 2 general election ballot, according to a survey of nearly two-thirds of the 45 delegates.
The convention is scheduled to meet Saturday to discuss how it should promote the constitution, which was approved in a 90-day session last spring, and the issue of whether the controversial measure should be withdrawn for modification or to allow more time for voter education is expected to come up.
Earlier this week, a majority of the D.C. City Council, including many members who said for the first time that they are opposed to the document as now written, said the council would take the necessary steps to remove it from the ballot, but only if requested by the convention delegates.
A Washington Post survey of 29 delegates yesterday found 16 who said they would oppose withdrawing the constitution, seven who said they would support withdrawal and six who said they were undecided or declined to state a preference.
"We've gotten this far," said Ward 7 delegate James W. Baldwin. "We should at least take it to the community and let the voters speak."
Harry Thomas, a Ward 5 delegate, said he thought the vote should be delayed. "That way, we could iron out some of the rough spots," said Thomas, who voted for the constitution at the convention but said he was uncertain how he would cast his ballot Nov. 2.
Victoria Street, a Ward 4 delegate who supports the constitution but wants to postpone the vote, said, "I would like for us to have made more contact with the public, to have done more education with the voters."
Delegates opposed to the withdrawal generally agreed yesterday that support for the move has come from delegates who were in the minority at the convention and from Council members who have not been leaders of the statehood effort.
"I think they are trying to say, 'I told you so,' " said delegate Robert Love of Ward 1, suggesting that the minority of delegates "are sore losers."
The debate over the ballot issue comes less than a month before the general election in which supporters of the document face an uphill battle to win approval for the measure.
Only a few provisions of the 18,000-word document have drawn public cricitism. They include provisions that could allow police and firefighters the right to strike, provisions for a guranteed job or income for city residents and a provision on bail that opponents say could require prosecutors to turn over all evidence of a crime to defense lawyers.
Supporters of the document contend that opponents are distorting the intent of the constitution and point out that the provisions could be amended by the City Council if they are considered unworkable.
If approved, the constitution would be sent to the Congress, which is now considered unlikely to grant statehood to the District. If the constitution remains on the Nov. 2 ballot and is defeated by the voters, the constitutional convention would be reconvened to suggest changes that would be presented to the voters again.
The City Council would need nine votes to take emergency action to remove the issue from the ballot. It would then have to decide by simple majority vote under what conditions the statehood convention would be reconvened.
Last night, the D.C. Democratic State Committee endorsed the constitution by a vote of 18 to 12 with two abstentions. Only about half the committee attended the meeting at the District Building. The committee also unanimously endorsed a nuclear-freeze initiative that will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.
On Tuesday, the executive board of the National Capital Area American Civil Liberties Union took a neutral position on the constitution. The board praised the constitution's civil rights sections, but said voters should read the entire document before deciding.