The Department of Justice has filed suit to force tiny St. George, S.C., to hold new elections for its entire six-member town council.

The unusual lawsuit, filed yesterday in Charleston, charges that the town violated the Voting Rights Act in 1979, 1981 and last April 5 because of its continuing use of a staggered term system that the Justice Department had vetoed in 1978 as racially discriminatory.

St. George, located about 60 miles southeast of Columbia, has a population of 2,134, which is about 41 percent black.

Before 1978, all six members were chosen in an at-large election for four-year terms. In 1978, the council voted to change to a staggered-term, at-large plan in which three members would be elected every two years.

At that time no black had ever been elected to the council, and the Justice Department ruled that the smaller number of positions would make it even harder for a black to get elected.

Vernon Kizer, the mayor of St. George and a defendant in the lawsuit, said yesterday that he wouldn't be able to comment until he meets with the town council, but he said the lawsuit "seems real weird after all these years."