FOR A LONG-VOTELESS PEOPLE, Washingtonians get a regular run of ballot-casting nowadays - from ANCs to Presidents, with primaries and school boards in between. But up until the last few rounds, casting ballots was one thing and keeping up with them quite another. The horrendous history of ballot-counting here abounds with tales of ballot boxes falling off trucks, student tally clerks leaving for dinner in the middle of a count and never returning and marathon counting sessions.
But thanks to significant management and staff changes at the city's Board of Elections and Ethics, things have improved noticeably. Moreover, the city had plans to start bringing the counting process "into the 20th century," as Shari B. Kharasch, who heads the board, describes the contemplated changes.
Last year, in fact, board officials talked about these changes at a budget hearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Districtd that is headed by Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.). "What does it take to bring about a count of the vote after the people vote?" Mr. Natcher inquired. "And what does it require for the precincts to be opened and manned when the people arrive during the designated hours to cast their vote?
The reply: A machine in every precinct. The chairman's response: "I don't disagree with you on that. In most of the states that is the situation. I know in my home state every precinct has a voting machine now? You only have 30 . . . We have home rule in the city of Washington. I voted for it, and I helped pass it, and I wanted to see it pass. I think people are entitled to it. I think this matter is one of the most important now pending in this city. People have a right to vote, and the vote should be counted. . . . I say to you, gentlemen and ladies here, quite frankly, I think this is an important matter. Instead of building more buildings, the city officials should start buying some voting machines or vote-counting machines."
So this year, guess what the local board is requesting money for? And if you've got that one, guess which congressional subcommittee has voted to cut out that money as well as other funds sought to permit the elections board to participate in a shared computer-services system?
If Mr. Natcher's so fired up about "home rule" and voting and tallying, perhaps he and the full Appropriations Committee will reconsider the subcommittee action before sending the city budget to the House floor. Neither the elections board nor the voters it's supposed to serve should have to rely on a municipal abacus anymore. Right now, though, the votes that count on this issue are in Congress, whatever the House may decide, we urge the Senate to recognize the importance of efficient voting in the nation's capital.