Election 'stolen,' loser says Long Reach rules are challenged

April 27, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

The losing Columbia Council candidate in Long Reach village says Saturday's election was "stolen from the people" through two bloc ballots accounting for 276 votes cast by two apartment complex owners.

Roy T. Lyons, who filed a challenge with the village election committee yesterday, lost his bid for a seat on the 10-member council to three-term incumbent Gail M. Bailey by a vote of 386 to 157.

Mr. Lyons says a running tally he kept as village election officials totaled results showed he won the popular vote.

But when 276 votes from two apartment complexes were included -- 100 votes from Longwood and 176 votes from Ashton Meadow -- Ms. Bailey came out the winner. The two ballots were cast by apartment owners, not tenants.

In all, 543 votes were cast for council representative in Long Reach -- 262 by individual residents and 281 by four individuals or corporations with "bloc vote" privileges. Mr. Lyons lost by 229 votes.

"We owe it to Long Reach voters to let them know their votes aren't worth a nickel," Mr. Lyons said. "They might as well stay home unless this situation is corrected."

Ms. Bailey said she was informed by village officials that she had won re-election.

"I think we have to follow the rules," she said. "If anyone has concerns with the election or process, it's within their right to request an evaluation."

Long Reach election committee co-chairman Phil Blustein said the village policy has been to allow an apartment building owner to cast votes for multiple units.

"We've never had a challenge before on this issue," said Mr. Blustein, who is one of two committee members who also serves on the village board.

In a statement released after a closed-door work session last night, village board Chairman Ron Beard said the election was conducted "in accordance with long-standing practice."

The election committee now will seek legal advice on Mr. Lyons' challenge, the statement said.

According to village bylaws, the three-member election committee must prepare "a statement of the conduct of the election" and submit it to the village board in the event of a challenge.

Mr. Lyons' challenge highlights the peculiar nature of the unincorporated city of 75,000, which functions as a private association, rather than as a government.

Columbia's $30 million annual budget is administered by the nonprofit Columbia Association, which charges property owners an annual fee to operate the city's impressive array of recreational facilities and civic programs. The elected Columbia Council oversees the association.

Voting is based on property ownership in eight of Columbia's 10 villages, but eligibility rules vary and are established in individual village covenants.

According to Long Reach village covenants, for instance, a property owner is entitled to one vote for each unit or lot he owns. In eight of Columbia's 10 villages, one vote is allowed per dwelling unit or vacant lot.

But in Hickory Ridge village, owners of apartment buildings may cast only one vote, said village manager Jane Parrish. The village bases that policy on a 1988 Columbia Association legal interpretation.

Council Member Charles A. Acquard of Kings Contrivance, who did not run for re-election, said he's outraged about the Long Reach election.

"Whether or not this is legal, the real question is whether this is moral," said Mr. Acquard, an attorney. "That the democratic process has been violated so much, legally or not, it's not right.

Councilwoman Norma L. Rose, of Wilde Lake, said she wasn't familiar with details of the vote in Long Reach.

"Once a village has chosen a council member by its own rules, I don't see that we [the council] have any more to say about it. It's really up to the villages."

Robert Silverwood, general partner of Columbia Associates, which owns Longwood, said he has cast multiple votes for about six years. Previously, village officials have called him just before the polls closed, asking him to cast a multiple-vote ballot so the village would reach its voter quorum to validate the election, he said.

"We go to great pains every time to tell people at the booth what we're doing," he said. "We don't think we tried to slip one past anyone."

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