The D.C. Statehood Party's only representative on the City Council launched an emergency drive yesterday to enhance the changes for passage of the statehood constitution on the Nov. 2 ballot.
But the effort appeared to have only minimal support from other members of the council. It is scheduled to meet in special session today to consider whether voters should be allowed to decide separately on each of the constitution's 18 articles instead of voting simply yes or no on the entire document.
Several council members have contended that some provisions of the document are too liberal to pass either the voters or Congress. They prefer taking the measure off the Nov. 2 ballot to allow for more public discussion or for modification of some of the more controversial provisions--but only with the consent of the convention that framed the measure.
Convention delegates met Saturday and rejected such a move, but did propose an itemized vote on the measure.
Yesterday, council member Hilda Mason (Statehood-At-large) drafted legislation that would clear the way for an itemized vote, but the plan ran into immediate trouble with several members of the council who said the effort was too late, would confuse voters and may be too costly.
Only two of nine other members interviewed yesterday -- Jerry A. Moore Jr. (R-At-Large) and Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) -- supported Mason's plan, which would need nine votes to come up for debate. The 13-member council has scheduled a special meeting for 8 a.m. today to discuss the issue.
"My sense is that the council will keep the ballot the way it is," said Council Chairman Arrington Dixon. "I think we are under a very short time fuse," Dixon said, referring to the less than three weeks remaining until the election.
Dixon asked representatives of the Statehood Convention, the mayor's office and the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to appear at today's meeting to discuss the issue.
H. R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) noted that the convention itself only voted 19 to 12 for the itemized ballot while 14 other convention delegates did not attend the Saturday meeting. Crawford, who wanted to take the issue off the ballot, said he also wanted to hear from convention delegates who oppose the constitution.
In response to concerns expressed that some voters did not know enough about the measure to cast ballots on it, Mason responded yesterday, "Does everybody know everything about a candidate who runs? I'm sane, I'm a reasonable person and I'm going to vote for the constitution."
Mason was one of three council members who were delegates to the convention. David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1) and Moore were the others.
Support for the Mason proposal was hard to find yesterday. Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), who said on Saturday that she would support the itemized ballot, said yesterday that she now believes the plan may be unworkable with only three weeks left before the election.
Other members who said they opposed or leaned toward opposing the split ballot were John Ray (D-At Large), Clarke and Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3). John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) declined to comment. Betty Ann Kane (D-At-Large), William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5) and Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) could not be reached for comment.
Election officials said yesterday that tens of thousands of ballots with the statehood question on it in a yes or no format already have been printed at a cost of $24,000. Reprints would cost about $31,000, according to the officials. The ballots could not be reprinted by the time absentee ballots are to be mailed out Monday.
Under the Mason plan, voters could vote "yes," "no" or a qualified "yes," in which they would have to identify those articles they opposed, according to Ed Guinan, who helped draft the Mason plan.
Itemized voting would operate similar to a straight or split-ticket election, in which a "no" vote would be considered 18 "no's" -- one on each article -- and a yes vote just the opposite, he said.
In the end, separate totals would be tallied for each of the 18 provisions. Each provision that received a majority of "yes" votes would be approved. Those with a majority of "no" votes would be submitted to the convention for reconsideration and placed up for voter approval in a subsequent city election.
Opponents of the constitution have generally criticized only a few provisions of the 18,000-word document written last spring.
Most of the objections have centered around provisions in the Bill of Rights, which opponents contend would require the newly formed state of New Columbia to guarantee every resident a job or adequate income.
Other criticisms include articles that could allow all public employes, including police and firefighters, the right to strike, a provision that would give the state governor the right to appoint judges without legislative approval and a provision that could require prosecutors to turn over all evidence to lawyers for defendants in criminal cases.