Last year, 338 residents of Special Tax District # 5 cast their ballots in an uncompetitive election that had three candidates for three board slots. What a difference a year makes.
In the wake of highly-public debates on RCC budget management, a Reston skate park and questions about the center's governance, residents of the tax district hit the polls in numbers not seen since 1998 when another controversial issue, a community center at Lake Anne, energized the electorate. "1998 is still the high water mark," said Denny Kern, RCC executive director.
While the numbers were up, not everyone on the RCC's preference poll committee is happy about the way in which some voters were treated when they went to cast their ballot at one of five different polling places on Oct. 18. "Violations were rampant at polling places," said board member John Lovaas. "Linda Mallison, and also Mrs. Lombardo, were in the tent at North Point standing over people while they voted. [The League of Women Voters] should have thrown them out."
Board member Mariana Tafur said she saw one of the candidate's wives in the polling place helping Spanish-speaking people fill out their ballots. "Mrs. Lombardo was translating," she said. "That's where a lot of his votes came from."
Contacted on Tuesday, Lombardo dismissed talk that either he or his wife were influencing the vote. The Lombardos, both of whom are fluent in Spanish, did approach a number of Spanish speaking residents near the Lake Anne polling booth and Lombardo acknowledged that his wife escorted some voters into the poll, but he vehemently denied that she was "advocating a particular position once inside the tent."
"She was very careful about that," Joseph Lombardo said of his wife. "She was simply acting as a translator at that point because the League of Women Voters didn't have any translators."
Mallison, a resident of West Market and past chairman of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce, was largely seen, among skate park supporters, as the leader of the campaign against an RCC-sponsored skate park at the Reston YMCA. Mallison campaigned for the Levine-Lombardo-Williams slate. Lovaas, on the other hand, lobbied for the Bouie-Coonin-Driscoll McKee slate.
Lovaas made a point not to fault all supporters of his opposing slate. Lovaas praised his "old buddy," Vera Hannigan, a Levine-Lombardo-Williams supporter, for "playing by the rules." Lovaas said Hannigan has enough respect for the RCC not to break the rules. While not a true election, the preference poll is guided by Fairfax County regulations which stipulate, among other things, that supporters of candidates must not get closer than 40 feet from the polling booth.
Candidates and board members on both sides, including Lombardo and Lovaas agreed that the rules were not clearly stated.
RCC will send a letter to the Fairfax County League of Women Voters, the nonpartisan group, who oversaw the poll, Kern announced during the subcommittee hearing on Monday night. Kern added that he would see that future contracts would call for three poll watchers, rather than one.
BEVERLY COSHAM, another board member, applauded the letter and said that there would need to be consequences if similar events took place in future years. "We need to have someone police the polls in the future, or this stuff will happen again," she said. "Yeah, we got nice numbers, but honestly this was the most adversarial campaign I have ever seen in Reston. It was ridiculous."
Cosham said she heard many stories of Levine-Lombardo-Williams supporters, like prominent skate park opponent Robert Goudie, "swooping down" on unsuspecting would-be voters. "Older people were being scared to death," she said.
Goudie, who was also a member of the special governance panel, laughed off the accusations as "silliness." "There was no issue at Lake Anne and there was no outer limit enforced," Goudie said. "Everyone had the same access and everyone was just as aggressive as everybody else. No harm done. As long as everyone is doing the same thing, what's the problem?"
During the meeting, Lovaas said he doubted the increase in voters was due to anything more than more aggressive tactics, "on both sides," to get people to the polls. "The sad thing is, of those 1,300 votes, I bet you that 1,000 of them had no intention of voting that day."
Kern added that several hundred of the voters thought they were voting in a Reston Association (RA) election and the executive director agreed that "stuff was going on in the tent."
While board members voiced their displeasure with some of the polling day events, the preference poll committee made it clear that the results would stand. In fact, of the 1,309 ballots cast, only nine were thrown out. "We're not going to contest the election," said Ruth Overton, the board president.
Despite her obvious frustration with the events, Cosham agreed with Overton that there was little the committee could do. "It is over. There is not a lot we can do," she said. "We've got to sit with these people."
Lovaas said the committee should do something, but "we can't point fingers."
Cosham agreed that during its Nov. 3 meeting, the first meeting for the new members, the committee should address the infractions, but withhold any names.