Delegates to the D.C. Statehood Constitution Convention, after nearly two hours of debate, rejected yesterday an effort to remove the proposed constitution from the Nov. 2 general election ballot -- turning aside arguments that the measure is too liberal or too little known to be passed by the voters.
"I think we have written a fine document," said Ward 6 delegate Howard Croft during the debate. "It is not fundamentally flawed as some folks have said. We can't let those voices say they stopped this constitution from going to the people."
The delegates, on a 19-to-12 vote and one abstention, instead voted to urge the City Council to change the method of voting on the 18-article constitution from a straight yes-or-no ballot to an article-by-article vote on the measure, a move that some delegates said would isolate any objectionable articles that could be reworked by the convention after Nov. 2.
But with just three weeks left before the election, many council members indicated in interviews this week that they would oppose changing the ballot language because it would be too confusing to voters.
"I have serious questions as a practical matter as to whether it can be done," said delegate and City Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1). Clarke said such a change would require reprinting the ballots. He also said it is not clear what would happen if only a portion of the document is approved.
However, delegate and City Council member Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large) -- the only member of her party on the council -- said yesterday she felt it was uncertain whether the council would itemize the ballot. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) said yesterday she would support an itemized ballot.
Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), reached after the convention vote yesterday, said, however, that she believes the constitution should be withdrawn from the ballot altogether, and that she may go ahead and ask the council to do it. "Nobody has had a chance to read it," said Kane. "Putting off the whole thing would be better."
Earlier this week nine of the 13 council members said in interviews that they would support withdrawing the constitution, but only if requested to do so by the statehood convention.
A few of the provisions of the18,000-word document have drawn strong criticism, including those that could guarantee every resident the right to a job or income, and could give police and firefighters the right to strike. Objections also have been raised about provisions for a 40-member legislature, and some critics have questioned the cost of the proposed government.
In another development yesterday, the convention authorized its 24-member statehood commission to spend $85,400 to conduct voter education on the constitution. Congress has ordered the commission to mail out by Oct. 22 an objective report on the constitution.