EVEN BEFORE the voters of this city answer any questions on their ballots Tuesday, there remains the big question of just how ready the polls will be to receive the electorate. Regardless of what the courts have said about how lenient precinct captains may be in assessing voters' credentials, the elections board should stick as closely as possible to its latest plans for maximizing hassle-free voting. As legions of voters rejected last time know only too well, fraud or padding hasn't been the trouble in this town; on the contrary, it's honest-to-goodness real voters who have been unaccounted for and challenged when they have come to exercise their voting rights.

David Splitt, new acting executive director of the elections board, has gone to great pains to make this point with poll workers. It will be up to the government's precinct captains to combine patience and good judgment in their handling of aggrieved residents. This means making sure that anyone who claims the right to vote is clearly informed of the right to vote a challenged ballot -- which, if the person is later determined to be properly registered, will be verified and counted. There should be open phone lines between all precincts, too, so that officials may assist voters in finding their proper polling places, while maintaining running lists of who has voted, and where.

Ultimately, the old registration lists should be dumped entirely. Starting with the lists of all who vote next Tuesday, the city can--and should--move out smartly in 1983 to sign up everyone anew for the next election. This mission, along with a total reassessment of the board's membership and office structure, should top the immediate-things-to-do list of the mayor and council in the term ahead.