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Votes

Democratic Adjustment

RCC board re-institutes one person, one vote.

The Reston Community Center's Board of Governors voted Monday night to rescind its earlier action and re-institute a voting model based on one person, one vote, a move hailed as more egalitarian and democratic.

Previously, the board voted to allow only one vote per household in RCC's preference polls, through which the community endorses board members for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to appoint. The justification for the one vote per household model is that RCC has no way of knowing how many eligible voters live at a particular residence, said Beverly Cosham, chair of the board.

The board was criticized by a small, bipartisan coalition of residents who said the one vote per household model disenfranchised residents of homes with more than one eligible voter. Monday night, after hearing a proposal from the coalition, the RCC board agreed and threw out their previous action.

"I think the community should be commended for saving the board from themselves," said Robert Goudie, a Reston attorney who proposed the coalition's one person, one vote plan. "To me, what's unfortunate is that it should never have required this effort."

TURNOUT FOR RCC preference polls is historically low. Out of 45,000 eligible voters, between 300 and 500 residents typically vote in the October polls, Cosham said.

Voter turnout is believed to be so low because the polls are only open for a few hours on one day at different polling places around Reston. This year ballots are expected to be mailed to voters, with the hope that the new method will boost turnout.

The Reston Association uses a similar model for electing its Board of Directors. RA sends an unsolicited ballot to each of its 21,000 homeowner members, who cast their vote by sending back the ballot. Turnout for RA elections and referenda is significantly higher than RCC's historical turnout levels.

By moving to a mail-out model, the cost of holding RCC's preference poll will increase dramatically because of printing and mailing costs. The total cost is projected to be in the ballpark of $30,000, said Dennis Kern, executive director of RCC. By solely using walk-in voting at physical polling places, staffed by the League of Women Voters, the cost is less than $10,000.

The question is now whether voter turnout will rise along with the three-fold increase in cost, Cosham said.

"How much should one vote cost?" she said.

Cosham said she is skeptical the community cares enough to participate in RCC's preference poll because she said people are mostly satisfied with the RCC's program offerings. Also, she said she has personally observed hundreds of people walk past the ballot box at the community center at Hunters Woods without casting a vote.

THE KINKS in the one person, one vote concept approved by the board will be hammered out in the coming months by the preference poll committee. However, several major hurdles must be cleared for the process to be ready for the October poll.

If more than one person may vote in a household, the committee must determine the method for getting multiple ballots to a single household. Another major concern for the committee is voter security and privacy. These questions, and probably more, will have to be addressed before the model can be implemented this fall, Kern said.

Without a personal identification number or a numbered ballot, independent contractors will not audit the RCC poll, Kern said. An independent audit is necessary to legitimize the poll; RCC staff members cannot validate the results themselves.

A telling statistic in the debate, said board member Bill Bouie, is that in the last RCC preference poll, only 16 households had more than one resident cast a vote. In other words, the debate over allowing one vote per household as opposed to one person, one vote, may make little difference in the end.

However, there is no reason to disenfranchise the additional voters in those 16 households, said Reston resident Sally Carrol.

"The one person, one vote is doable and in our country, that's how we do things," she said.