PERHAPS IT WAS too much to expect the authors of a statehood constitution to pull their prized document off the ballot before any serious damage to the cause of self-government could take place. But unless members of the D.C. Council act responsibly and vote immediately to postpone this referendum question, anybody who is serious about statehood, more self-government or representation in Congress can forget it. To remove the question now is not -- repeat, not -- to oppose statehood. On the contrary, to insist on a vote now is to kill it.

Why? Just because Congress might not like it? No. Were it merely a matter of refusing to bow and scrape for colonial overlords on the Hill, the cause might justify the consequences. But the draft itself is so larded with political prickles that even some of the strongest advocates of statehood won't touch it. Too many others either don't know or can't agree on its ramifications.

A few examples:

* "Every person shall have the right to employment, or if unable to work, an income sufficient to meet basic human needs." Does this guarantee every resident a job or income? What's "sufficient"? Who'll pay?

* "The right of public employees to strike shall not be abridged unless the abridgment serves a compelling governmental interest and is narrowly drawn so as to serve that interest, and it is clear that no alternative form of regulation is possible." Who's going to define this one? The new government, the judiciary or a union leader, citing yet another section that says "no laws shall be enacted which impair the ability of collective bargaining organizations to carry out their lawful functions"?

* "The grand jury shall not engage in fishing expeditions." Not even Friday lunch at a chowder house?

Granted, no convention of statehood drafters can put together a letter-perfect, universally endorsed constitution. But voter approval of this document three weeks from today would be a shaky statement at best--and certainly not a solid foundation for a new state government.

Washingtonians need time to see where the statehood draft would take them, time to refine the course and time to generate the solid support that such an important step should have from the outset. Three weeks isn't enough. The council should call an emergency session and come to the rescue of self-government by voting to pull the question from the Nov. 2 ballot.