IT IS clear, and has been so for longer than anyone should have to admit, that the District of Columbia's elections have been one unbroken chain of gross embarrassments--embarrassments that have come to threaten its very franchise. But now, after an equally sorry record of bureaucratic apologies for all the miscounts, delays, lost or misplaced ballots, missing names on the voter rolls and other horrors, there is genuine, official alarm. David A. Splitt, who was hastily called in to pick up the pieces after the Fiasco of September, in which longtime legitimate voters found themselves inexplicably stricken from the rolls, has called for a halt to all elections until "major surgery" can be performed on the whole process.
Good. There is not the slightest reason to believe that the top-to-bottom overhaul Mr. Splitt is proposing could be completed properly and in time for the school board and advisory neighborhood commission elections scheduled for November 1983. Besides, both he and David A. Clarke, who takes over as D.C. Council chairman next month, are proposing that these odd-year elections be consolidated with those held in even years (mayor, council, delegate, president). Every experience has shown that this too makes sense, so it might as well start right away.
Nothing substantive will be accomplished, though, unless and until the mayor responds to another of Mr. Splitt's proposals: that something be done about the "burned out" staff of the elections board. It should be total--not just another rearrangement of the place-settings, but a complete housecleaning; fully trained election specialists, computer experts and the best elections administrator this city can attract are required, housed in decent, orderly quarters. If firings are in order, there are procedures; if not, there must be other ways to rekindle the "burned out" with new duties -- elsewhere.
Mr. Splitt has offered a number of other helpful suggestions for elections changes--eliminating certain pointless and costly write-in provisions, an increase in the number of precincts, a consolidation of ANC boundaries to mesh with the new precincts and elimination of "poorly written, disorganized and confusing" elections statutes.
First things first: a new team is essential. Two of the seats on the board need filling, a director must be found, and the personnel have to be able to do the job. This is a tall and serious order. Mr. Clarke is ready to act. Mayor Barry should get ready, too.