CLEARLY THE GREATEST challenge for "challenged" voters in this city's last fiasco at the polls is to maintain composure in the face of unbelievable official ineptitude and clumsiness in the office that is supposed to be cleaning up its most recent voter-roll mess. The latest fuse-blower came in the form of a list of voters deemed--or alleged, really--to have cast ballots that should be disqualified. Any resemblance between this list and an orderly, accurate roster of ineligible voters is purely coincidental and well beyond the recognition of anyone issuing it.

Most of it, in fact, was beyond recognition of anybody who tried to read it, because the elections board staff and management were unable even to alphabetize their misinformation. Peraps help can be commandeered from a sixth grade of the board's choice or the cast of "Sesame Street." But from the scene yesterday -- with scores of fully qualified, longtime, experienced and regular voters challenging their challenges--there would be no point alphabetizing that list anyway, because it's rubbish.

Phase I of anything close to the necessary immediate recovery and cleanup of the voter rolls has to include a clear, widely published and posted list --in readable form -- of precisely who is considered officially invited to vote on Nov. 2. Then, at least, those who are legally entitled to do so, and who have been dropped for whatever unacceptable reason from the rolls, could pop the proper postcard in the mail and demand an official confirmation of registration.

To review briefly the basic functions of the elections board office, they are 1) to sign up every eligible resident who seeks to vote; 2) to hold a clean election; and 3) to count the ballots accurately. Is that too much to ask?