The D.C. elections people goofed again, and, again the walls are reverberating with demands that something be done about the mess. The most frequently heard suggestions are:
1. Send Teddy Filosofos, executive director of the election board since May, back to Erie County, N.Y.
2. Clean house at the elections office, throwing out professional staff, clerical help, supervisors and members and chairman of the Board of Elections and Ethics.
3. Scrap the entire registration system, including the computerized list of voters, and start from scratch.
I ought to tell you that I was victim of the latest goof: the Raspberrys, who have been living at the same address and voting in the same precinct for nearly a decade, were mysteriously purged from the master voting list. My wife and I were required to vote special "challenge" ballots, to be counted days after the election. This unexplained nonsense did not please us, any more than it pleased the approximately 20,000 other Washington voters, new and old, who found their names missing from the master list.
Still, it may be that there are other things to consider besides the visceral one of who is to be fired. I have just finished a long shouting match with Filosofos, who didn't want to talk to me in the first place. Then, after vowing not to talk, he talked: about his disappointments and his progress in his three months on the job; about the remaining technical and legal problems; about his confidence that the worst is over.
The first problem he said, was to get a handle on the voter lists -- a task that seemed simple enough except for a couple of complicating facts: (1) some names that existed in card files were not on computer tapes; some names that were on the tapes had no backup cards, and some appeared more than once in either or both places, and (2) District law forbids him to purge any name without a legitimate reason.
Filosofos' point was that a lot of garbage got into the system that couldn't be purged until the recent switch- over to a new data system. And the new system overpurged. Parameters were built in that would automatically kick out impossible street numbers, misspelled streets, wrong quadrants, incomplete addresses, and so on. My own street has been misspelled for years, a fact that, heretofore, had never interfered with my effort to vote; apparently Filosofos' new system kicked me out. Me and 20,000 others.
Still, says the elections executive, it is mostly a question of a one-time inconvenience. The 20,000 challenged ballots -- which, thank heaven, won't affect the election outcome -- will be validated against master card and computer files, and those that survive challenge will be added to the master tape. Thus, by the November election, he says, 99 percent of that 20,000 will not have to cast special ballots again.
I know, it sounds like the promises we've been hearing for the last eight or 10 years. But it does occur to me that things are improving. It's been a long time since we had to wait several days to learn the vote count, or humidity jammed the counting machines, or boxes of ballots fell off a truck. Tuesday's unofficial tabulation was complete by 11:30 p.m. -- the morning count as early as 5 p.m. As far as I know, no one was denied the chance to vote, and there was no evidence of cheating or vote manipulation. And since firing people and purging lists is likely to produce more harm than good, I'm willing to wait and see what happens in November. You might call it a guardedly Filosofical approach.