It began with the arrest of the District's premier politician one night last January and culminates Tuesday when the polls open to a record number of registered voters. The dizzying tale of D.C. politics in 1990 is drawing to a close amid the most thorough change in city government since the advent of home rule.

Regardless of who the victors are five days from now, the political re shuffling will be top to bottom: the first new mayor of the post-Barry era, the first new delegate to Congress in nearly two decades, a new D.C. Council chairman and the first new council member from Ward 6 in 16 years.

Voters will also elect, for the first time, two shadowlobbyists to the U.S. Senate and one shadow lobbyist to the U.S. House of Representatives. The three non-voting, unsalaried positions were created by the D.C. Council this year to lobby Congress for D.C. statehood.

For only the second time since home rule, a referendum will appear on the citywide ballot, this one designed to restore the right to overnight shelter of all homeless people in the District who request it. A vote in favor of the referendum would reinstate the city's ambitious shelter program by overturning a council vote to scale down the program; a vote against the referendum would permit the council's decision to become law.

Polling places in the District's 140 precincts will open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and close at 8 p.m. The deadline for registering to vote in the general election has passed, as has the deadline for requesting absentee ballots for voting by mail.

All registered city residents may vote in the election, and according to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, there is a bumper crop of voters today, surpassing the all-time record of 299,757 registrants that was set during the presidential election season of 1988.

This year, there are upwards of 304,000 registered voters, about 237,000 of them Democrats, approximately 36,000 independents, 27,000 Republicans, 2,600 members of the D.C. Statehood Party and a couple of hundred with other affiliations.

In two electoral contests -- those for shadow senators and two at-large seats on the D.C. Council -- residents may vote for a pair of candidates. The two candidates who receive the highest number of votes in each contest win.

In the shadow Senate race, the candidate with the most votes will be elected to a six-year term, while the candidate with the second highest vote total wins a four-year term, so that future elections for those seats will be staggered.

The ballot shows 86 candidates running for 15 citywide and ward offices, an explosion in the number of office-seekers that reflects the ferment in District politics this year. In a city that experienced very little turnover in its small number of elective offices, Mayor Marion Barry's Jan. 18 arrest in an FBI drug sting operation set in motion a domino effect that opened up seats long held by the city's best-known politicians.

The primary elections in September, especially the Democratic mayoral race that set a new record for spending in any D.C. election, winnowed the field of major-party candidates. Independents and third-party candidates did not have to undergo the primary process, which accounts in part for the large number of names on the November ballot.

Several veteran Democratic politicians gambled their seats in losing bids for citywide office during the primary season. Walter E. Fauntroy, the District's only delegate to Congress in modern times, gave up the seat he had held since 1971 to run for mayor. David A. Clarke relinquished the D.C. Council chairmanship to compete in the same primary. And Betty Ann Kane gave up her at-large council seat in an unsuccessful effort to succeed Fauntroy.

Eleven people are running for mayor, including the Democratic, Republican and D.C. Statehood party nominees. Six independents are running for the office, as are one candidate each from the Libertarian and Socialist Workers parties.

Five candidates are running for delegate to Congress, a post that has the rights and privileges of a congressional seat except for a vote on the House floor.

There are three candidates for the chairmanship of the D.C. Council and eight candidates for the two-at large council seats.

In Wards 1, 3 and 5, Democratic incumbents face challenges from Republicans and Independent candidates, while in Ward 6, a Democratic hopeful and a D.C. Statehood Party member will square off for the seat held since 1974 by Nadine P. Winter, who was defeated in the Democratic Party primary in September.

With the departure of Winter and Clarke, the 13-member council may have only one member from the early home rule era, John A. Wilson (D), who is running to succeed Clarke.

Eleven candidates are running for the two shadow Senate seats and three are running for the single shadow representative seat.

Eleven people are running for one at-large seat on the D.C. Board of Education; two are running for the Ward 2 seat, 12 for the Ward 4 seat, five for the Ward 7 seat and two for the Ward 8 seat.

All 323 seats on the city's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are up for grabs this fall; 396 candidates are running for those positions.

The D.C. delegate's job pays $125,000 annually, and the office of mayor pays $90,705 a year. D.C. Council members receive annual salaries of $71,885 for their part-time posts; the full time chairmanship pays $81,885.

School board seats pay $27,575 annually.

Polling places in the precincts should be accessible to physically disabled people, and city elections officials say they plan to provide "curbside" voting for those needing special transportation to and from the polls.

The city government also will provide special telephone communications for the hearing imparied through a service number, 639-8916.

For more information about voting and arrangements for the physically disabled, residents may call the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, 727-2525. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. weekdays.