ANYONE WHO HOPES to see statehood come to the District of Columbia had better hope even more for a delay in the scheduled Nov. 2 vote on a proposed constitution. Even the Statehood Party's longtime leader -- at-large council member Hilda Mason, who supports the document as well as the concept -- senses trouble for the cause if the referendum is conducted as planned. It would be better to take the question off the ballot than have it fail, says Mrs. Mason -- and she's right.

Though drafters of the proposed constitution disagree on the precise ramifications of their document were it to become the framework for a state, the fact is that the proposal contains enough controversial provisions to give anyone pause. And even if the proposal is not seen as a turkey downtown, it is a dead duck for sure in Congress.

Earlier this year, there were suggestions that the constitution draft be voted on provision-by-provision. But given the time left until the polls open -- and the unglued state of everything at the elections board these days -- there is no responsible way to present or evaluate the proposition in this manner.

The prudent path to the strongest self-government possible is to withdraw the proposal and improve on it before putting the electorate in an embarrassing political position. If the statehood convention delegates insist on pressing their case, they and their document -- not the voters -- can be blamed for any setback the cause of self-government may suffer. If it comes to an up-or-down vote on the constitution as it stands, rejection will be the wisest move in order to protect the District's long-term interests.