The Columbia Council is sponsoring a meeting tonight with Columbia village associations to explain a recent court decision clarifying the unincorporated city's unusual voting rules and to find out whether residents want to change them.
The council wants to know if residents favor including money in the 1993-1994 Columbia Association budget for a Columbia-wide campaign to begin a one-person, one-vote system in village elections. Current voting rules in eight of 10 villages are based on property ownership, with one vote per property or condominium.
Several villages have advocated the change as a move toward democracy. Other village officials have resisted, saying that Columbia operates more as a homeowners association than as a municipality. Two villages -- Kings Contrivance and River Hill -- already allow one vote per person.
Jeanette Pfotenhauer, Columbia Association general counsel, will lead the discussion at 8 p.m. at the Columbia Association Building, 10221 Wincopin Circle.
Columbia's voting rules were called into question last spring when Councilman Roy T. Lyons challenged incumbent Gail Bailey's apparent victory in the Long Reach village election for council. Dr. Bailey received 276 votes from two apartment building owners, who cast ballots for each of their dwelling units.
The dispute was decided this fall in Howard Circuit Court, after Dr. Bailey filed suit in an unsuccessful effort to block a repeat election, which was won by Mr. Lyons. The disputed election cost Long Reach $31,293 and the Columbia Association about $15,000 in legal fees.
Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr. upheld Mr. Lyons' victory, ruling that apartment building owners are entitled to one vote for each property lot they own, not one vote per dwelling unit. He also ruled that owners and tenants representing the same residence are each entitled to a vote.
Villages have interpreted voting rules differently, even though they are essentially the same for each village. Rouse Co., Columbia's developer, wrote the covenants.
To change village covenants, 90 percent of village property owners must approve the change, a consensus many Columbia officials view as nearly unachievable.
State Del. Virginia M. Thomas, a Howard Democrat, has suggested that legislation be created to allow village associations to circumvent the covenants and place an amendment on a ballot for a popular vote.
Several council members have questioned whether the Columbia Association should offer financial support for an information campaign unless the villages are unified in their desire to change the voting system.
The nonprofit Columbia Association, which runs city recreational facilities and community programs, and the villages are separate legal entities.