SO WHAT HAS HAPPENED to the primary vote-count now? It is Thursday of the second week, and the rash of excuses and explanations for the delay in producing a complete count is defying belief. Never mind that yesterday's counting session was not even scheduled to start until afternoon because people had to rest up - at this point, fatigue is indeed a dangerous risk factor. But if there had been the necessary strong sense of mission in the first place - the proper respect, if you will, for the seriousness of this task - it would all be over by now.

The accounts from the District Building - and it's getting tough to tell rumors from the awful truths - have included one tale of a missing list of cards showing who had voted in one particular precinct, which later is said to have turned up in a box marked "election supplies", some temporary delays in tabulating the challenged ballots of people whose last names begin with "W"; temporarily misplaced ballots; and on and on.

If the latest delays were largely born of a desire to err on the side of caution, at least the final results - whenever they materialize - should be as reliable as those in the rest of the country. But the trouble is, it may not be noticed, for already this mess has been an invitation to the apparent losers to cast general doubt on the outcome. That tends to feed on itself and to erode public confidence in the whole process.

Contrary to what opponents of home rule and congressional representation for the District would have people believe, the voters here do understand the importance of this exercise: They turned out in apparently larger percentages of registered voters than did people in Montgomery or Prince George's counties for their gubernatorial primay. And we venture to say that the voters of the District of Columbia are as appalled as anyone at the apparent insensitivity of their present local administration to the way this election-count fiasco looks. It is not a joke; it's frustrating, maddening, embarrassing. It is also something we hope no future administration will tolerate - if we ever get the complete count required to have a future administration.