Hickory Ridge village's vote is not official

Insufficient number of ballots cast to validate the results

First time in village history

Coffman, other candidates to be appointed at a meeting May 5

Columbia

April 29, 2003|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The democratic process was virtually nonexistent in Hickory Ridge during its Columbia Council and village board elections Saturday.

For the first time in its history, the village fell short of the required number of voters to validate its elections. Only 186 of the needed 333 ballots were cast.

That means Miles Coffman - the past Columbia Council chairman who ran uncontested to be the council's Hickory Ridge representative - and the five village board candidates are not officially elected to their offices.

The low voter turnout may be attributable to the rain or the fact that, for the first time in about 20 years, the village had no contested races for either the council or the village board.

"When there's no race, the people don't campaign," said Jane Parrish, the Hickory Ridge village manager. "And usually we have a lot of campaigning in our village."

For Coffman and the village board, not being elected is a technicality. On May 5, the village board will hold a meeting to officially validate the results, and Coffman and the five village board candidates - Linda Hitzelberger, Tom Louden, Linda Rossiter, Gregg Schwind and David Zeitzer - will be appointed to office.

As last term's Hickory Ridge representative on the council - which governs the 95,000- resident Columbia Association and also acts as its board of directors - Coffman holds his position until May 8.

He will still be able to pursue the council's chairman job Thursday, when the council is scheduled to elect the group's chairman and vice chairman.

"We plan to proceed with business as usual with him as the representative from Hickory Ridge," said Keisha Reynolds, the Columbia Association's manager of community relations and communications.

It was extremely slow at the village's polls at Hawthorn Center. Rain canceled the flea market on the center's parking lot that usually helps draw potential voters. A bright orange sign on the Hawthorn neighborhood sign directing people to the polling place and another sign at the center were the only visible indicators of the elections.

Coffman said that without an opponent there was not a lot of pressure to persuade people to vote, and he was only at Hawthorn Center for about a half-hour Saturday morning.

"We knew [not getting enough votes] was going to happen," he said. "I did not campaign at all because I had so much going on."

Only 44 people voted at the center Saturday. The remaining votes came from 60 absentee ballots and 82 ballots from the Columbia Association, which owns open space, giving the association the right to vote in the village. Those 82 votes are always put toward the vote total, to help the village meet its needed quorum, Parrish said.

"I certainly thought we would have more walk-ins on election day," Parrish said.

When there is competition for the Hickory Ridge council or village board seats, Parrish said the village often just barely makes its voting quorum.

Last year, when Coffman was challenged for his council seat, the village squeaked by its required 333 votes, pulling in only 339 votes.

The remaining seven Columbia villages that held elections Saturday got their required number of voters. Long Reach pulled in the most ballots, with 653 votes. That was the only election that had a contested race for the Columbia Council, in which challenger David Hlass defeated incumbent Linda Odum.

Oakland Mills got just four more than its needed 342 votes for its elections.

"That's the closest we've ever been," said Erin Peacock, the Oakland Mills village manager.

Even River Hill, which usually has low voter turnout, had more people voting Saturday than Hickory Ridge. With no excitement in its races - only one council candidate and one candidate for four open village board seats - the village still made its required 46 quorum, with 63 voters and no absentee ballots.

To attract voters, River Hill also held children's elections, in which youngsters chose between a dolphin, shark, sting ray or seahorse for the village to adopt at Baltimore's National Aquarium. (The dolphin won with 17 votes).

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