Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014 Columbia Village Elections Re-Cap (with Suggestions)

While not always the case, participating in Columbia Association politics is akin to playing soccer with a satchel full of anvils.  Progress may be slow, it may hurt a bit, but grit will get you where you need to go…eventually.  And even then, sometimes you score an own goal.

This past weekend’s village election outcomes were disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, at least in two out of the three contested CA races.  Based on the resident votes (excluding the CA votes), Fontaine and Schwarz kept it close.  Klein’s machine – more Rube Goldberg than Tammany Hall – managed a narrow 52% - 48% victory once the parcel votes are removed from the equation.  No one will be calling him Landslide Alan anytime soon.  Schwarz obtained 44% of the vote in Hickory Ridge, that is a respectable showing in any book.  The Waller defeat was a bit of an upset, particularly in light of her record of community service in Town Center.  Well Ms. Ketley, check your calendar because it is time to govern like it is 2014.

A good friend (and future Delegate) penned some thoughts on increasing voter turnout in these elections.  The post can be found right here.
I thought I would offer up some suggestions of my own:

“Vote Columbia” community gatherings, held in the Village Centers in April, one week before Election Day.  Candidate forums are great but they tend to occur on weekday evenings and they can be sparsely attended.  Hosting Election Day community gatherings is fine, but I think such events – ideally - should launch a week of reflection and discussion of relevant CA and village issues.  So I would have them occur on the Saturday before the traditional Election Day.

Why not host a family-friendly event in each village, with food and entertainment, where residents can visit with their neighbors and receive information about the candidates…prior to Election Day itself.  Frankly, and this is very important, they should be able to vote at such events too, which leads me to:

Early/extended voting periods.  Beyond the mail-in ballots, it would be helpful to have more than just one formal window of opportunity to cast one’s ballot in-person.  Kings Contrivance allows residents to vote on Friday evening as well as Saturday.  I recommend formally opening the polls at the aforementioned “Vote Columbia” event….and then either keeping them open for a full week, or at least for the kick-off event as well as Thursday and Friday in addition to Election Day Saturday.  And advertise this expanded window.  Yes, voters can walk-in with mail-in ballots, but how many are aware that this is an option?  How many know where to go?    

An incentive.  While participation in the electoral process is its own reward, voting in village elections is slightly different than casting a ballot for a state or federal office.  In Wilde Lake, and I assume other villages, we receive a slip of paper with a number on it that identifies our specific ballot.  What if a drawing was held where the holder of that number received a discount on a CA program or service?  Nothing too extravagant of course, but enough to encourage more residents to take more of an interest in village elections.  I hear some villages hold raffles, so this suggestion is a variation on that theme…and it should be done in all of the Villages and Town Center.

Electronic voting options. This should absolutely be explored.

Design changes with the mail-in ballots. I think they can resemble junk mail.  Perhaps another look should be taken at them…to consider how to make them more eye-catching, more likely to be opened and read, and acted upon by the recipients.

Anyway, this is a start.  Although the ground is wet and I am sans cleats, I am just trying to kick this ball down the field a bit. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.


  1. In Hickory Ridge, we have tried most of your suggestions.

    Two years ago, we tried an "Early Voting Extravaganza" a full week before election day. We had games, giveaways and food. It was lots of fun and we had folks of all ages in attendance, but we had no significant change in the number of voters. We also tried a couple of times to have voting the night before at the village center. We even had a band and face-painting. People had fun and yet we noticed no difference in the number of people voting. Every year we have a "guess the jelly beans in the jar" contest with a$50 prize for the winner. Doesn't really make a difference. We have had a flea market in the parking lot on election day for many years. So what!

    This year, for the first time in awhile, we made quorum. The difference was (1) an actual race for all positions, (2) we moved our shredding event which attracts a crowd to the same day, (3) lots of use of social media.

    As for ballots, each village does something different with getting ballots to their residents. I'm not convinced that anything really works.

    The most significant issue to me is the number of people who tried to vote who either (1) live in an outparcel and didn't know that they can't vote or (2) live in a different village and tried to vote in Hickory Ridge.

    There is a lot of work to be done before people pay attention to our elections.

    1. Points well taken. Getting out the vote is always difficult in a democracy, but the alternatives are not acceptable. Kudos those community dedicated folks for working to get more people to the polls. My wife and I came over to shred some paper and take in an old printer for recycling and stayed to vote. We probably would have voted anyway, but it was nice and convenient to combine several tasks that day.

  2. Joan - I absolutely agree regarding the challenge of getting residents to understand/care about/vote in our elections.

    It is heartening to know that bold experimentation is occurring. Even if the results are mixed or inconclusive, the mere fact that different attractions or incentives are being tried is encouraging. Otherwise, the torpor sets in...quorums would become harder to obtain, elections would increasingly be decided by small, angry, narrowly-focused voting blocs, and the average resident would become more alienated from the CA.

    At least that is one scenario.

    I imagine it will take some combination of events and offerings to enhance voter turnout. The key is to keep identifying possibilities and testing them out.