Columbia will vote tomorrow

April 22, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

Columbia residents will have a chance tomorrow to win $25 gift certificates to a village shopping center or a color television // through raffles, pocket $50 in cash by estimating jelly beans in a jar and hunt for bargains at a neighborhood flea market.

No, it's not a carnival, and it's too early for the summer city fair. It's election day for Columbia village boards and the Columbia Council, which has prompted some villages to provide extra incentive to draw a traditionally complacent electorate out to vote.

"Everyone has some gimmick," said Jane Parrish, manager for Hickory Ridge Village, which is sponsoring its annual election day flea market in the parking lot of the Hawthorn Neighborhood Center, where voting -- and the jelly bean count -- will take place.

Dorsey's Search Village has raffled a television set to one lucky voter for the past few years.

"It's tacky, but [voters] like it," said Anne Darrin, Dorsey's Search Village manager.

Village officials want a respectable turnout not only for reasons of civic pride, but also because nine of Columbia's 10 villages need a minimum number of ballots to avoid triggering a burdensome legal procedure for a second election.

Most villages require a quorum of 10 percent of property lot owners to validate elections. Even with that modest requirement, villages usually just scrape by.

"In a best-case scenario, you're probably talking 14 to 15 percent," said Bob Berlett, a member of the Oakland Mills Election Monitor Committee. Oakland Mills used to throw a party on election day -- clowns, balloons, hot dogs and 25-cent beers -- but found that voting turnout didn't increase anyway, Mr. Berlett said. The committee now focuses its efforts on promotion.

Wilde Lake Village also has taken a no-frills approach. For the last three years, the village has mailed absentee ballots with election literature to all village property owners.

"We think it's made people more aware of the election," said Village Manager Bernice Kish, adding that many residents are too busy to vote on a spring Saturday.

Observers cite several reasons why Columbia residents seem to avoid the polls in droves: a lack of understanding of Columbia's system of governance, which combines aspects of a homeowners association, public service and private enterprise; a general contentment with Columbia's quality of life; and a frequent lack of contested elections.

"Ten percent show up to vote and people say, 'What apathy,' " said council candidate Barry Blyveis of Owen Brown Village. "Of course, they're going to be apathetic. They don't know what's going on."

Hickory Ridge not only lacks a contested race this year, but also is one candidate shy of filling its village board.

Four of the six council elections this year are contested. The 10-member council acts as the board of directors for the nonprofit Columbia Association, which charges Columbia property owners an annual fee to manage recreational facilities, community programs and open spaces.

In Owen Brown, Mr. Blyveis is trying to unseat current council Chairwoman Karen Kuecker; in Oakland Mills, newcomers Gary Glisan and Neil Noble are vying to replace council Vice Chairwoman Fran Wishnick, who is stepping down; in Wilde Lake, Michelle Alexander is challenging Councilwoman Norma Rose; in Harper's Choice, Laura Waters is competing against Councilwoman Hope Sachwald.

Council members Mike Rethman of Hickory Ridge and Suzanne Waller of Town Center are unopposed, while the other four council representatives are not up for re-election.

Only three villages -- Harper's Choice, River Hill and Town Center -- will have contested races for village board, the community advocacy bodies that also oversee property covenant enforcement.

Since 1988, just more than one-third of all village board and council elections have been contested.

The lack of contested elections and poor voter turnout don't bother Ms. Darrin of Dorsey's Search, who says those factors indicate that residents are satisfied with their representatives and community.

"When there is a problem, residents are very vocal," the village manager said. "When they're not vocal, I have to assume they're very happy."

Dorsey's Search hasn't had a contested election for at least five years.

COLUMBIA COUNCIL AND VILLAGE BOARD ELECTIONS

VILLAGE: DORSEY'S SEARCH

Polls: Linden Hall, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow

Quorum: Simple majority

Voting rights: 1 vote per household or rental lease

L Columbia Council: Evelyn A. Richardson continues 2-year term

Village Board seats open: 2

Village Board candidates: S. Kenneth Puckett (Incumbent); William Thies Jr. (I)

Terms: 2 years

VILLAGE: HARPER'S CHOICE

Polls: Harper's Choice Village Center, Valu Food, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow

Quorum: 10 percent of eligible voters

Voting rights: 1 vote per household or rental lease

L Columbia Council candidates: Hope Sachwald (I); Laura Waters

Village Board seats open: 3

Village Board candidates: Heather D'Amore (I); Peter Weickgenannt (I); James T. Edmonds; Melvin Weinstein

Terms: 2 years

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