The D.C. City Council, ending a two-week-old controversy over how the proposed statehood constitution would be voted on in the Nov. 2 general election, decided yesterday to keep the document on the ballot as a single yes-or-no question.
The council, meeting at an unusual 8 a.m. session, declined to change the ballot to allow separate votes on each of the constitution's 18 articles -- a move suggested by statehood convention delegates in an effort to enhance the document's chance for passage. Some provisions of the constitution have been criticized as too liberal or as impractical.
The council adjourned without taking action after elections officials testified that they could not guarantee that a revised ballot could be printed in time for the election.
The change definitely could not be made before Monday, the deadline for the elections board to begin sending out absentee ballots, the officials said.
"It would be foolish to attempt to do it in that time," David A. Splitt, temporary director of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, told the council yesterday.
Splitt, who ordinarily serves as director of the city's Office of Documents, took over the elections job Oct. 1 in an effort to help straighten out voter registration problems that forced more than 20,000 persons to vote by special challenged ballots.
Noting a history of poorly run elections in Washington, Splitt said that " . . . It is too late in the day, with the efforts we have made and are making to hold a good, whole, clean election" to make changes in the format of the statehood constitution on the ballot.
After Splitt's testimony, at-large council member Hilda Mason, a delegate to the convention that framed the constitution and the only member of the Statehood Party on the council, did not formally introduce legislation she had prepared to change the format.
Mason acknowledged after the council session that there was little likelihood any other attempts would be made. "When the executive, which is responsible for implementation, said it was unmanageable, they (the council members) had no alternative."
Charles I. Cassell, president of the convention, told the council that he did not think the ballot change was crucial to the constitution's chances for approval by the voters, but said it would have given the statehood delegates an indication which articles were objectionable to the public.
Other delegates have said some of the articles may be too liberal or that there has been too little public discussion of the document for either the voters or Congress to approve the measure.
Last week, nine of the council's 13 members said they would support taking the document off the ballot for possible modifications, but only if the convention requested it. The delegates rejected that idea Saturday.
Mayor Marion Barry, at his monthly press conference yesterday, said that he would vote for the constitution, but acknowledged that many questions have been raised about the document. Barry specifically mentioned a provision that could guarantee city residents a job or adequate income.
Barry said he philosophically believed that the U.S. government should provide such a guarantee, but said, "I doubt the District of Columbia could afford to carry out that mandate."