The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics at one time was bombarded with problems after elections. The city's voter registration process was so chaotic that Mayor Marion Barry made election reform a major campaign issue in the 1978 mayoral race.
The 1982 primary illustrated the lack of organization in the voting process. In that election, about 20,000 voters were forced to cast special challenged ballots because their names were not on voter rolls at the polling places.
"The whole situation boils down to a case of organization, staffing and planning," said Emmett H. Fremaux Jr., the executive director of the elections board. "Historically, those things were not done. It was all purely crisis coping."
But the election board's problems have faded, largely as a result of administrative reform. The last three District elections were conducted without any major snafus, and the board is entering the final stage of its comeback plan.
In August 1983, the board began a voter re-registration process that will be completed after the November general election. As a final step in rebuilding the registration rolls, the elections board will drop about 200,000 names from the rolls after Nov. 6.
The purge will apply only to persons who did not participate in the board's voter revalidation process, which required voters to provide updated information, including any change in address. Anyone who voted in the 1982 primary or general election and anyone who registered to vote since 1982 automatically met the requirement -- and remains on the rolls.
Fremaux said that thousands of voters have already participated in the revalidation process and that he expects the District to have about 260,000 registered voters after the November purge.
In addition to updating voter information, the elections board has increased its efforts to reach voters. For example, the board, for the first time, has done mass mailings to provide voters with changes in election procedures and details about those elections.
The November election, however, will be a major test for the board's reform efforts.
The election, which includes the presidential, City Council and D.C. delegate races and more than 300 elections for the city's 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs), will be the board's biggest challenge since the reorganization plan was implemented, said Fremaux.
The complicated ANC elections may pose the greatest problem. For example, while each ANC area is divided into Single Member Districts, each of which represents about 2,000 residents, voters for six to eight of the districts may be assigned to the same polling place. Poll workers must make certain that voters receive the proper ballots.
"If we do well on this, we will have arrived," said Fremaux. "In the course of 12 months we would have had every type of election you can have."
To maintain the registration rolls beyond 1984, the elections board plans to:
*Verify addresses by mailing nonforwardable identification cards to each voter beginning in 1985. Returned mail would trigger a procedure to remove voters from the rolls.
*Conduct an annual purge, beginning in 1987, of voters who were registered but failed to vote in any elections during the preceding four years.
* Redesign the voting precinct structure to base precinct boundaries on the Single Member District boundaries. The change, which may begin in 1985, would increase the number of voting precincts, which would be generally made up of about two districts.