ISSUES OF THE hour and even outrages of the season do fade with time or the arrival of new topics of interest--and so it may be with the voter- registration mess that had people up in arms here from the minute they hit the polls two months ago. But even if the story isn't getting big play anymore, the emergency still exists, and the bureaucrats had best not procrastinate: the main mess has yet to go away. Why care right now? Failure to act immediately could cause a severe blow to self-government.

The voter lists are no good. True, they were patched up enough between September and November to accommodate eligible voters whose names had been mistakenly dropped the first time. But again, we submit that reregistering is essential if the city hopes to have accurate voter records; and a sensible approach to this procedure has now been outlined by the elections board chairman, Albert J. Beveridge III.

The best way, says Mr. Beveridge, is 1) to take the names of those who voted in September and/or November as a base; 2) allow a period during which others who didn't vote on either occasion this year but who believe themselves to be registered could contact the elections board and be added to the base; and 3) move out and sign up anybody or everybody else who is eligible and willing. Do it. William R. Spaulding, who has headed the D.C. Council committee with jurisdiction in these matters and who in the past has opposed complete reregistration, says this method "has some merit." He also says his staff will study the proposal, and that -- look out -- January is the earliest that any of Mr. Beveridge's suggestions would be considered.

Just a matter of weeks, right? Maybe a few more for hearings, then a committee vote, then final council action, a decision by the mayor and the congressional review. Then, of course, there will a request for time to determine procedures, to get materials ready and to keep the new data straight in the computers. One bureaucratic breakdown, and you're staring at mid-summer -- with another election set for fall. What is there to study? Is this council so lame- duck that it can't move at all? Whatever other changes the city may wish to consider can be taken up later. But -- and here we go, one more time -- reregistration and a clean voter list are essential; the emergency remains, and the danger of another election fiasco still looms. Only the consequences are likely to change, and it won't be for the better.