When you have only four part-time vote counters, it takes a while to plow through 17,000 ballots.

In what is probably a giant step backward for the media -- which nowadays often calls the results of an election before people finish voting -- we, finally, bring you results of a federal worker attitude survey that we ran on Jan. 14.

In a word, the attitude of federal workers is lousy.

On that fateful Monday we asked readers -- feds or otherwise -- what they thought about President Reagan's plan to cut federal salaries and to trim the retirement benefits of government employes.

The question wasn't, 'Do you want your pay cut and your pension trimmed?' No need for such a survey in a federal town like this.

The question was, 'Do you think the pay cut is justified and would help the government, even if it hurts you?' Or, 'Would the cuts damage the career civil service, and the people it serves?'

When we closed the polls on Jan. 20, we had mail from as far away as Pasadena, Calif., and Miami.

Most of it came from Washington, and 90 percent of the respondents said they worked for the federal government or were retired federal workers.

Self-admitted government workers, by a margin of 90 to 1, opposed the cuts.

Nonfederal workers took a harder line, but still rejected the cuts 45 to 1.

The votes weren't as interesting as the comments that came with many of the ballots.

Counters Bob O'Harrow, Jocelyne Causey, Steven Causey and yours truly -- informally known as the Irish Ballot Watch Committee -- pulled out some letters from people.

Here are a few of them:

"I oppose the president's plan. I am the widow of a 32-year civil servant. If everyone in industry would take a pay cut, I might feel differently." -- M.N. Frederick, Md.

"Why is it always us? If the president really doesn't understand the devastating effect this would have on employe morale, we are all in big trouble." -- L.P., Kensington.

"I favor the cutback in federal pay and benefits." -- Chevrolet dealer in King George, Va.

"I have never worked for the government. But common sense dictates that nobody favors a pay cut, and short of some national emergency, no good can come of such a cut.

"There are surely good civil servants and bad ones, just as there are capable people in private industry and not so capable people.

"A move like this, to further denigrate the nation's civil servants for economic problems caused by politicians, the oil crisis, or whatever, is a cheap political trick.

"The harm it would do would certainly outweigh the 'savings' that would be made. I vote no." -- C.M.W., Falls Church.

"I wonder if the pay-cut backers would feel the same if they were in my shoes. I am a single parent, with two children and one salary. I have to raise these kids and am only barely making it.

"There are others like me. If a salary cut should be made, it should be made on the higher federal salaries, not the low-paid people.

"Please, we need our full salary to meet the cost of living." -- L.J.M. Hagerstown.

"Give government workers the right to strike, and the right to participate in the political process like other Americans. Then the politicians can cut our pay -- if they dare!" -- L.K.B, Arlington.