HAVING BANDAGED UP their records enough to limp through the mandatory running of an election without any new catastrophe, the city's elections officials should now proceed directly to the operating room for major surgery -- to purge and reregister until those voter rolls are accurate. The danger, of course, is that with the pressure off, things will return to abnormal. But the emergency still exists. In a little more than 11 months, there will be elections that could prove to be the permanent undoing of self-government if they are not conducted well.

What to do?

First, there are the dead and departed -- between 70,000 and 125,000 names that don't belong on the master list of voters. These have got to go, and that can't be all that difficult to check.

There is a far more important job for the council, and there is no reason to wait for the "new" council since it will have only one new member: legislation should be enacted to pave the way for a completely new registration. If that means declaring the entire existing list null and void, fine; this could take care of those nonexistent voters in one swoop. Reregistering isn't that massive a bureaucratic challenge or public inconvenience, either. With a combination of publicity and simplicity, the job can be completed in plenty of time -- if a law is passed right away.

* The mayor should waste no time finding a professional, hard-nosed executive director to clean up the act in the elections board office. If that job entails declaring the entire personnel roster null and void, on with it: keep only those staff members who know what they're doing and find others who know either how to enter data into computers correctly or how to admit it when they can't.

The extra headache in the offing is a necessary alteration of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission boundaries for the city's 365 ANC districts, to reflect population changes. This is the council's responsibility, but it will be up to the elections staff to reflect all revised designations for all voters. Already, they're claiming that this job could take about five months. That's too long. The mayor and council should come up with a way to speed this task without sacrificing accuracy.

Tall orders? Yes. But they will be filled if the city is serious about protecting the limited franchise it is allowed to exercise.