The Rev. Ronald H. Haines, a North Carolina priest who is virtually unknown to church members here, yesterday was elected suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington over a female priest and four other candidates.

Haines, 52, who is deputy to the bishop in the Diocese of Western North Carolina, was elected on the sixth ballot in a race that quickly emerged as a contest between him and the Rev. Mary Chotard Doll, 47, of Cincinnati.

Had Doll been chosen by the special convention of priests and lay delegates called to elect a suffragan to assist Bishop John T. Walker, the head of the diocese, she would have become the first woman bishop in the worldwide Anglican communion.

The priest and lay delegates cast their votes separately, and Doll had strong clergy support. By the fourth ballot she was within eight votes of the required clergy majority, while Haines held the necessary majority among the lay delegates.

As other candidates dropped out or their chances became increasingly slim, clergy votes began to shift to Haines until he was elected on the sixth ballot.

He was elected with the support of 80 clergy, three more than required, and 100 lay delegates, 19 more than needed.

When Walker, who presided over the convention, announced the results of the sixth ballot, the entire convention stood and applauded.

Haines thanked the delegates and said, "I only ask that you accept me into your Christian comunity and enable me to minister to you."

In her nominating speech for Doll, Pamela Chinnes alluded to the controversy by noting that some have argued the diocese should not elect a woman bishop until after the worldwide Anglican communion's Lambeth Conference considers the question at its next meeting in 1988.

The Episcopal Church is one of only a small number of the churches of worldwide Anglicanism that have permitted the ordination of women priests, a prerequisite for a bishop.

Some have argued that for the Episcopal Church to ordain a woman as bishop would sow dissent and confusion in the worldwide church.

Chinnis reminded the delegates that the Episcopal bishops in September voted 112 to 31 to ordain a woman as bishop should a diocese elect one.

Also, she pointed out that the heads of Anglican communions worldwide, meeting in Canada in March, "recognized the right of each national church to proceed" with the election of a woman bishop as they saw fit.

"Somebody has to take the lead" in electing a woman, Chinnis said in pleading with her fellow delegates to vote for Doll. "This moment is not likely to come again."

Haines, in a quick news conference after his election, said he was at a loss to explain his popularity among the lay delegates.

"I did not honestly know a living soul here except The Rev. Joe Mackov," a seminary classmate now at All Souls' Parish, "and he was for Kit Sherrill."

The Rev. Christopher R. Sherrill was one of the six candidates.

Haines said he understood that he ended up on the slate of candidates for the post because "my bishop sent my name in."

The new bishop left a business career to enter the church's General Theological Seminary in New York City and has served churches there and on Long Island before going to St. Francis Church in Rutherfordton, N.C.

One of the most dramatic moments of the day came when the Rev. William A. Wendt, a veteran of numerous conflicts during his 24 years in the diocese, withdrew from the race.

"You may ask why I waited so long," Wendt said. "To be honest, it felt good to be loved again."

Wendt, 66, who heads a counseling ministry dealing with dying, said his decision to withdraw was influenced by two friends who came to him in recent days for help in dealing with suicide, and by a letter from a fellow priest who told him, "We need you as you are -- free, loving, creative, restless when appropriate."

The delegates gave him a long ovation.