Worried that Reston voters could duplicate ballots and taint election results, Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), along with a unanimous Board of Supervisors, voted two weeks ago to stymie a plan to mail out ballots for the poll to select members of the Reston Community Center’s Board of Governors.
The preference poll, held every fall, is a community nomination for members of the board which oversees Reston’s two community centers. Turnout for the preference poll is low, with an average of 350 citizens voting in a community of 66,000.
To increase turnout, the Board of Governor’s preference poll committee voted 5-0, with one abstention, to mail out ballots to residents and businesses for this year’s election. A sample ballot was mocked-up, the League of Women Voters was consulted and the process appeared ready to go.
But now Hudgins and the Board of Supervisors have said RCC’s board must maintain its current voting procedure, in which residents vote in person at the community centers at Lake Anne and Hunters Woods.
"The process that they’d chosen just does not provide enough confidence in the election process," Hudgins said. "I just want us to step back a bit."
At the RCC board’s meeting Monday night, John Lovaas, a member of the RCC board and the leading advocate for a mail-out vote, said Hudgins is micromanaging and has disenfranchised potentially thousands of voters.
"This is a tragedy to the democratic process," Lovaas said. "It’s a sad end to a lot of work by a lot of people."
Last week Lovaas resigned as chair of the preference poll committee. Monday, RCC Board member Carl Levine also resigned as the committee’s vice chairman in protest.
"I am disappointed by the unilateral decision by Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, negating a year and a half of work," Levine said.
RCC BOARD CHAIR Beverly Cosham said it is pointless to complain about Hudgins’ decision to maintain the status quo.
"Everyone sits around here and speaks about the democratic process. You lost. It’s over," she said. "... We live in a Republic. Let’s stop talking about a democracy all the time."
Cosham, along with RCC’s Executive Director Denny Kern, met with Hudgins prior to the supervisor’s decision to undo the preference poll’s plans for a mail-out voting. Lovaas and Levine criticized Cosham for possibly lobbying against the plan behind closed doors with the supervisor.
Cosham said she does not tell Hudgins what to think or what to support, suggesting Lovaas’ assertions of impropriety are an outrage.
"It’s a black woman thing. But I didn’t want to go there," Cosham said after the meeting Monday. "It’s insulting. That she can’t think on her own. That I’m going to tell Cathy Hudgins what to think. It’s insulting to both of us."
Lovaas and Levine said it is "unseemly" that Cosham and Terry Smith, another RCC board member against the mail-out plan, have taken a prominent role in shaping the election process in a year they are both running for reelection.
"It’s a matter of ethics," Levine said. "This is a conflict of interest."
APART FROM THE ARGUING, the RCC board hammered out a few lingering details about this year’s preference poll Monday night.
The long range planning committee decided to mail vouchers to Reston’s commercial property owners, which are now allowed to vote in the preference poll. The vouchers are intended to ensure a commercial property owner votes only once.
The committee also decided to revert to the original preference poll timeline, which had been moved up to accommodate the mail-out process. Now, candidates will file with RCC starting in September.
The long range planning committee, chaired by Smith, handled the preference poll process despite criticism that his committee was working outside its purview. Smith, however, said it was merely implementing Hudgins’ policy, not doing the work of the preference poll committee.