NO, IT CAN'T BE, but yes, there it is--yet another horrifying development in the longest-running political self-destruction saga in the District Building: the continuous botching of elections from registration to ballot count. This time we are told that as many 50,000 people may have trouble voting in the important primary elections this September because of incomplete, missing or inaccurate records within the elections office. How many of these obstructions of the electoral process must a jurisdiction suffer before it becomes a voting rights case for the Justice Department to investigate?
That would be the ultimate insult to self-government, certainly, but so are the constant blunders that have plagued all but one or two elections ever since votes have been cast here. It is little comfort that this terrible history has spanned two mayors, several changes in the makeup of the D.C. Council and a string of beleaguered, overwhelmed or otherwise impotent boards of elections and staffs.
To the point: the registration rolls must--not just "should"--be put in order now, without delay. The question is, how best to proceed, and each option involves a large emergency effort.
Reregister everyone: It may come to this, but even the most vigorous effort is likely to produce new errors--and even a 5 percent error rate would involve perhaps 10,000 people.
Open registration, right through election day: This method, aimed at letting anyone register on the spot and then vote, would leave the way open for a candidate with plenty of cash and buses to load up potential registrants on election day; if incumbent officials or representatives of city agencies got into this act, it could be read as pressure.
An all-out effort: With the strongest of commitments from the mayor and council, the city should recruit the best, most experienced computer crews and supervisors available from private business to merge voter tapes for the last four years and recapture all names lost in the process; and to check and notify all names in doubt or not matching up.
Every apparent mismatch found through this last process would then be checked by mail, telephone, postcard or personal visit for verification. With a saturation advertising and telephone campaign, any residents in doubt could check before election day to make sure that they are on the rolls.
Above all, there are two things the city should do without: 1) more fancy, new, untried electronic equipment that jams, misreads, or otherwise messes up the process; and 2) more excuses for failing to carry out the most fundamental tasks of a local democracy.