They Gave a Vote and Nobody Came


May 01, 1994|By KEVIN THOMAS

I went to the flea market last Saturday and stumbled upon an election.

Actually, I went to the community center in the Columbia village where I live because I wanted to vote for representatives to the Columbia Council and village board.

The flea market was held in the parking lot outside -- a lure to draw voters to the poll.

If there's one thing we suburbanites like, it's a good flea market or garage sale. A community garage sale held by my neighbors recently drew bumper-to-bumper traffic. No such tie-up at the village center flea market, however.

By the time I got there, admittedly in late afternoon, it looked as if it had been a long, dull day for the flea market merchants. A dazed group of diehards greeted my arrival as if I had made a wrong turn and was stopping to ask directions.

Actually, I did question one man sitting behind a folding table how much longer the polls would be open. He had no idea what I was talking about. A more observant bystander answered my question.

But I'm not blaming the other guy for being unaware. By the time I dropped my ballot into the cardboard box inside -- which was also where I could deposit my estimate of the number of jelly beans in the jar on the counter nearby -- about 100 people had preceded me.

L They probably sneaked in when the merchants weren't looking.

Which is just about the way it goes when an election is held in Columbia. You blink, you'll miss it. Why they hold these %o elections, I'll never know. Next to nobody cares. A few hundred people here and there show up out of the thousands who are eligible to vote.

Before the balloting, there are all the signs of a campaign. Forums are held, leaflets are passed out, interviews are done for the local media. Then all the candidates get their friends and relatives to go to the polls while they wait to declare victory.

My favorite post-election statement this year came from incumbent councilwoman Hope Sachwald, who remarked upon her victory in Harper's Choice by saying: "I think we had a really good year. We did a lot of innovative things. Next year, we'll even do more."

A good year? Innovative things? You are hopeful, Hope. I hate to burst any bubbles, but only 170 people shared that view, judging by the returns.

Ms. Sachwald's opponent, Laura Waters, got 132 votes. That assumedly means that nearly half of the interested adults in Harper's Choice thought the year was neither good nor innovative. With these piddling results, however, searching for significance is pointless.

It has to be hard for all the elected volunteers who devote such time to sit on the boards and council. Once a year, the community lets out a collective "We don't care!"

I figure that I spend about $1,276 a year for all of the services the Columbia Association provides, which these elected officials are charge of overseeing.

At those prices, I care. But I have to admit, I'm a little tired of being among the few. So, I've given some thought and come up with two possible solutions, neither of which stands a chance of being adopted. If there's one certainty about Columbia's political system, it's that nothing changes. But here goes anyway:

Given Columbia's leftist leanings, I propose that the city abandon all pretense at democracy. What better place to resurrect the Communist model than here? People might not even notice the difference.

Instead of elections, office holders would be selected by central committees. They would then form a politburo to guide the bureaucracy. Of course, the bureaucracy would be all powerful, which, come to think of it, is about the way it is now.

My second proposal may sit better with the traditionalists among us.

Since the adults don't care, turn the reins of Columbia governance over to the kids. At least let them play a role.

Middle school students are already required to do public service work. Why not let them form advisory panels that would report to village boards and the Columbia Council on an ongoing basis?

They could hold elections in their schools, learn how to run campaigns, field candidates and establish agendas.

The benefits would be two-fold:

The city might just produce a bumper crop of future voters.

And, if kids tend to reflect the views of their parents, it may be the only way we can find out what the adults are thinking anyway.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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