NORMALLY ANY ACTION in District of Columbia elections happens at party-primary time, when the huge Democratic majority chooses its nominees for what have been automatic victories in November. But this time special attenton centers on a six-candidate contest for two at- large seats on the D.C. Council. If, as the lopsided partisan odds would indicate, Democrats again elect their nominee, one seat will go to incumbent John Ray. But every voter will have two votes, and therein lies uncertainty. The other incumbent, Jerry A. Moore Jr., has a far more difficult shot at returning to office -- though we believe he deserves to continue his dedicated and fair service.

Having lost to Carol Schwartz in the smaller arena that is the Republican primary, Mr. Moore is now running as a write-in candidate -- who must count on active workers and informed voters to get his name on enough ballots to win. Mrs. Schwartz has proved to be a strong and informed opponent, whose quest for support has extended well beyond her original solid core of Republicans from her home Ward 3. But we think the evidence points to Mr. Moore as the prudent choice.

Though Mrs. Schwartz, as well as three other challengers on the ballot -- Statehood Party nominee Josephine Butler, Independent Brian Moore and Communist Maurice Jackson -- portray the council as some sort of misfunctioning closed club that automatically would be better with new members, it has worked responsibly and effectively in recent years. And Mr. Moore has played a significant part in the maturing of the council as a law-making body.

Miss Butler is a veteran activist in the city who has worked closely with neighborhood and union groups but who has failed to offer sharp ideas that would make her a more promising or effective legislator than either of the incumbents. Similarly, the other two challengers have not made their cases for "new blood."

Jerry Moore may not be the portrait of vigor and innovation, but neither is he a rubber stamp for Mayor Barry or an apathetic tool of the Democratic and Statehood council members with whom he has been serving. The endorsements of six of these members are based not on mutual self-defense pacts but on respect for Mr. Moore's serious service to the city and the region. The write-in route is not a slap at the primary process; it is an opportunity to go before the far larger body of voters in a legitimate referendum.

In the other council contests, the September victories of incumbents John Wilson in Ward 2, Charlene Drew Jarvis in Ward 4, H. R. Crawford in Ward 7 and Wilhelmina J. Rolark in Ward 8 deserve reaffirmation in this final round.

THE SHELTER INITIATIVE: No matter how

strongly voters may feel about the government's responsibilities toward the homeless, they can -- and should -- vote without any pangs of conscience AGAINST Initiative Measure No. 17 on the ballot. Not only is it insufficiently summarized on the ballot, but also it has served its only constructive purpose already: that of focusing new attention on a most serious matter. But if this proposal is voted into law as written it would be a wide-open invitation to people of any means to demand as a right government shelter for what could be the rest of their lives.

True, laws can be tightened later, and what we cite is the extreme. But why should voters of the District buy such a loose and treasury-busting proposal? This one even says that if you live in the District -- it's unclear for how long -- and you have an "accommodation" but are "unable to secure entry to that accommodation" or if "occupation of the accommodation would likely lead to violence from another ocupant," you qualify for all that the government must provide.

No, the government is not doing enough for those we all consider homeless, but these unfortunate people do not deserve the company of countless others who could or would come into the ranks under Initiative 17. Whatever important services other groups are now providing presumably would abate if government took over this mission -- and never mind how much it might cost.

The remedies lie in other approaches, from changes in national policies to better care for the mentally ill, jobs programs and assistance in moving people from dependence to self-sufficiency. And that includes emergency shelters, too.

That more should be done is obvious. But voting for a legally loose proposition that would amount to a blank check is not a wise response.