Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Begging for Votes

The turnout for the Wilde Lake village elections may have been light but it wasn’t as bad as Hickory Ridge. According to this report by Jennifer Broadwater in The Columbia Flier, last Saturday’s village elections “failed to reach quorum.”

This is not all that unusual in Columbia village elections. A few years ago, when I lived in Town Center, volunteers went around on Election Day trying to round up enough votes to make a quorum after turn out at the polls was anemic. We went begging for votes.

I’ve heard some people say that this only proves that people are generally happy with the way the Columbia Association runs things. They tend to think that the majority of people see no great need to participate in the process because of this. I think it’s something else. I think the whole village election process has become outmoded.

17 comments:

Alan said...

I served on the Owen Brown Election Committee in this year's election. I am wondering how would you like to have representatives chosen if not by election. I also question the methodology behind getting our quorum, but not the act of voting. Direct mailings and electronic voting are both costly for Village's with tight budgets. Distribution of ballots with Village Newsletters are an option, but rely on folks: 1. Reading their Village Newsletter and 2. Filling in the ballot and returning them. Voter apathy is high, but why?

Dave W said...

While there was not a competitive election this year in Town Center, they have been holding a village yard sale on the same day and at the same location for voting in order to help pick up a few votes from the neighborhood in order to reach a quorum each election. Even then, they barely sometimes get over the 10% threshold (I think) for a valid election.

B. Santos said...

WB,

A little bit of data on the ground in Wilde Lake. Unofficially, 637 residential ballots were received in the election last week. According to Columbia Association documents, Wilde Lake has a total of 2618 residential units. That translates to a voter turnout of 24%.

Although this does not equate to general election participation numbers, it is not a bad turnout for a private election.

John Bailey said...

I live in Hickory Ridge and am actually running for re-election on the village board. Part of Hickory Ridge’s problem, similar to Town Center is that the village office is not located at the village center. In many of the villages the village office is next to a shopping center. In Hickory Ridge you have to go out of your way to go and vote, like Town Center this is why there is a yard sale on Election Day in Hickory Ridge.

Since there was not a contested CA race in Hickory Ridge there is even less of a reason for people to come out to vote. People vote when the outcome impacts their wallets. Other then keeping the community looking nice and testifying on some county proposals the village boards do not impact taxes, fees, or other financial matters. Therefore people do not see the urgency in voting. If the village board were setting CA assessment rates you would see more people showing up to the polls (I am not advocating this at all).

If you want to see people who have a passion for their community and are committed to Columbia, stop by a village board meeting sometime. I am constantly amazed at the work the villages do to make Columbia the place it is today.

John Bailey said...

I live in Hickory Ridge and am actually running for re-election on the village board. Part of Hickory Ridge’s problem, similar to Town Center is that the village office is not located at the village center. In many of the villages the village office is next to a shopping center. In Hickory Ridge you have to go out of your way to go and vote, like Town Center this is why there is a yard sale on Election Day in Hickory Ridge.

Since there was not a contested CA race in Hickory Ridge there is even less of a reason for people to come out to vote. People vote when the outcome impacts their wallets. Other then keeping the community looking nice and testifying on some county proposals the village boards do not impact taxes, fees, or other financial matters. Therefore people do not see the urgency in voting. If the village board were setting CA assessment rates you would see more people showing up to the polls (I am not advocating this at all).

If you want to see people who have a passion for their community and are committed to Columbia, stop by a village board meeting sometime. I am constantly amazed at the work the villages do to make Columbia the place it is today.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, John Bailey? Residents have to go "out of their way" to vote in Hickory Ridge? Only in Columbia would someone say that going to Sunny Spring instead of Freetown Road "out of the way."

Trevor Greene said...

I am on the River Hill Village Board. We are lucky to have the Columbia Gym right next to our Village center, and hold part of the election there. I do not think we had trouble getting a quorum. Unfortunately, we are having trouble finding enough people to serve on the board and on various committees.

John Bailey said...

My point was that more people would vote if they could do so while buying milk and other groceries.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is not location. There are several reasons why voters don't vote in the village elections.
First is the lack of information about the experience, knowledge and character of the people running for office. At Joseph Square I asked for a copy of the list of people running for the Board and was told the laminated copies were the only ones available and I couldn't take them with me to read about the candidates. I might have returned if I had had a chance to review the qualifications before voting.
Second, the timing is atrocious. Mark my words, if these elections occurred at polling centers for other political offices, there would be a considerable increase in voters participating in the village elections. I know.. I know.. These are village and home owner association elections but why not?
I don't believe there is any law which says that the villages can't hold their elections on election day in November along with other political elections.
HH

Anonymous said...

HH, exactly right. There's scant information on the candidates for CA, and right again on holding the elections with the Democratic and Republican elections. As an Independent I can tell you there are so many barriers to entry for third party candidates that we should either kick everyone out of voting in public buildings (solving the issue of giving one industry off work every voting day) or open up the elections to all candidates who want to run.

Sarah said...

I voted in the Owen Brown elections, but barely. Sure, it was easy to vote (they had a station outside Giant), but since I wasn't able to make the Candidate's Night (previous plans), I had to rely solely on the candidate's softball statements and ended up voting kind of stupidly (John Boyle had a website, which was cool, and Wayne Eldridge didn't go past the word limit.) I know Pearl Atkinson-Stewart has been involved in some capacity in the Village Board or CA for the last 20 years, and that's cool, but being new here, I don't really know what that means.

I tried going online to see what the village board actually does. Here's what I found:

Board members manage the association budgets, ensures that the village architectural covenants are enforced, advocate for capital improvements for the village and often serve as a community advocates to county and state officials for resident issues and concerns.

All of which is great, really. Kind of general, but good, just like the statements. I'm glad there are people who do this. I flipped through the minutes and they seemed pretty run-of-the-mill.

But, and I hate to say this because I'll come across as one of those apathetic folks-- I don't see how my vote for one person vs. another really did anything. Obviously, everyone who ran cares about Owen Brown, and if it's just advocacy for Owen Brown as a whole, great, fine, awesome. There was nothing that distinguished the candidates to me, so it didn't matter who won, at least in my eyes. Trust me, I know this is bad-- my degree is in urban planning, and I work for Baltimore City DOT and dislike public apathy. I dislike myself for thinking this way as well, but I can't see any evidence to the contrary. One of these days, maybe I'll go to a board meeting but right now, I have other, more pressing issues. So, there Alan-- maybe some insight as to why voter apathy is high? I'd love to get involved in the village association though, but short of getting off early to talk to the village manager, I can't see how to go about doing that.

I'll repeat my caveat-- I'm new here.

Alan said...

Hi Sarah and all the other posters. I know that from having served on a village board, most board members are happy to talk to anyone interested in getting involved with the village. I would suggest that you contact the Chair or Vice Chair of you Village Board (Sarah it would be Andy Stack Chair or Summer Romack Vice Chair for you) by email and that way a conversation can occur outside of normal business hours.
To anonymous 2:40, did you vote in the recent elections and if you did, did you go to the polling place for the specific act of voting, or as part of another errand or even perhaps a found opportunity?
As to why the village elections are at this time of the year it is due to the change over of financial years. CA and the Villages' financial years are from May to May. The new directors, elected folks, are made official at the annual meeting usually held no later than May 15th.
Finally, how do we get the residents to know the candidates? We have a candidates night, we ask for written statements, maybe we can have questions answered as a part of this statement in the future, websites, newsletters. Actual campaigning took place this year in OB. I am open to suggestions and would love to hear your thoughts.

HoCoRising said...

I recently signed on with the RAC (Resident Architectural Committee) in my Village, and they don't meet until 7:30 pm, which would seem to be late enough for most people to participate.

I think the real issue is that it is just plain boring stuff. Same reason HCTV wasn't gripping television. I admit that when we talk about these County issues, it sometimes takes some serious adjectives to bring this material up to the level of acknowledgement, despite the fact that it has a much greater impact on your everyday life than whether Obama had a beer with a police officer on the South Lawn.

I think the Boards are doing everything they can through dumpsters, yard sales, and chili cook-offs to get people there, but the whole "Bowling Alone" issue would seem to extent to Village Board elections just like everything else.

HoCoRising said...

Correction: Seem to be late enough for "childless white males" to participate. ;-)

Sarah said...

Thanks, Alan. I do think it gets back to WB's last point-- people don't vote because they don't feel like they need to vote. I think an extra candidate's night would be good for folks who are interested but can't make one. Maybe an explanation in the newsletter about what a village board member does. I think once you're involved in an organization, and you care about what happens, it's hard to understand why others don't feel the same.

Thanks for all your work-- I don't want you to think I don't appreciate it.

Also, thanks about the tip to email Andy and Summer-- I will indeed do that.

Alan said...

Thanks Sarah, I think it helps me that my wife and I are raising two kids in Columbia. I want them to have the best possible environment, best people, best everything, and working to make the community better is my gift back to them. Summer is looking forward to hearing from you.
HOCORISING I get your point, however, I will point out whole bunch of the new generation of board members are chock-full of kids, Jen Terrasa (3 former Board member KC), Summer Romack (2 OB Vice Chair), Bill Santos (at least two Wilde Lake) and Myself (2 OB) just to name a few that popped into my mind. Come to think of it most of them grew up in Columbia too, myself excluded.
I still would like to hear ideas on how to get folks interested and involved. Let's keep the discussion rolling.

HoCoRising said...

Alan,
My comment was tongue in cheek. I know plenty of people that are heavily involved in their community that have kids. My comment was in reference to an earlier comment on this site.

I think a great way to get people interested and involved is to have board members door knock to let the people know what is going on, and why it is important. It is tedious, and generally "not fun," but if that is a goal, there is a way to approach it.