Long Reach's Version of Democracy HOWARD COUNTY

April 29, 1993

To Roy T. Lyons, last weekend's Columbia Council election must seem like robbery. Even in the shrouded mysteries that often pass as government in Howard County's planned city, Mr. Lyons could not have expected the outcome of his race for a seat on the council.

Running in the Long Reach neighborhood, Mr. Lyons had one challenger, Gail Bailey, a long-time council member. When the residential votes were tallied, Mr. Lyons was the clear winner.

But when so-called corporate or bloc votes were folded into the final tally, Mr. Lyons had lost by a whopping 386 to 157 votes.

On the surface, the results may seem fair. Mr. Lyons did not get a majority, so he lost. In fact, what happened to Mr. Lyons -- not to mention the residents of Long Reach -- is so patently unfair that to allow it to stand would undermine any shred of good government in Columbia.

At issue are the corporate votes -- in this case, those of two apartment complex owners -- which were tallied based on the number of units in each complex. This appears to follow a standing practice in Long Reach, although most of Columbia's other villages allow corporate votes only as long as they mirror whoever wins the popular, residential vote.

Without the corporate vote, many villages couldn't reach a quorum in their elections, according to the bylaws, even though fTC they don't want the corporate vote to dictate the outcome.

The theory behind all this is that everyone, including corporate dwellers, is allowed to participate. Apartment dwellers can already vote in village elections.

Still, to empower an apartment owner to vote for all of his or her residents -- in effect giving renters two votes, in some cases -- is radically out of kilter with anything resembling democracy. Unless this matter changes, Mr. Lyons is right when he says, "We owe it to Long Reach voters to let them know their votes aren't worth a nickel. They might as well stay home unless this situation is corrected."

If not corrected, and other villages decide to follow Long Reach's lead, those running in the next election almost certainly can bypass residential voters and go straight to where the real numbers are -- in the corporate vote. Then, Columbia will have an even more unique system of government, particularly in the free world.

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