Authorization to establish an in-person absentee voting location for the Herndon Town Council election fell 6-1.
A last-minute resolution ended up denied on Tuesday, March 25 due to the amount of questions the council still had about it so close to the May elections.
"We didn’t want to rush into it, because it didn’t seem like the right thing to do at the time," Mayor Lisa Merkel said in an interview after the meeting.
Councilmember Sheila Olem was the only one who wanted to approve the absentee voting location.
According to the meeting agenda, the resolution called to establish an in-person absentee voting location at the Herndon Community Center in addition to one at the Fairfax County Government Center for the next town election.
The town council meeting started off with a local man insinuating that the resolution was a conspiracy to flood the election with voters who would otherwise care less about voting.
"The resolution as a scheme was obvious to allow outside groups like the Virginia Majority, the [Service Employees International Union] and political parties and their operatives to come into town Saturday, May 3, to shuttle-bus over otherwise apathetic voters as they have bragged about in Herndon’s last two elections," said resident William Campenni during the audience comment period.
MAYOR LISA MERKEL said the resolution was added at the last minute because she was awaiting a cost estimate from the county Board of Elections before the election. She said the council was notified by email of the addition for discussion.
"I don’t think town residents should have to leave their towns to vote in town elections," she said. "However, it doesn’t appear there is enough time to discuss the issue, and the last thing I want is for our town election to become a circus. Talk about bringing buses of people to an election is just ludicrous. I don’t think there’s anyone here who would dream of doing such a thing."
Since there will be other elections in May, including a possible Democratic Primary, Vice Mayor Connie Hutchinson asked, since the funds were being used for multiple elections, if they would still be appropriated. Previously, the Board of Elections told the town that an in-person absentee voting location would cost $2,000. Additionally, she wanted to know if having a Democratic Primary election at a town satellite location would violate the town bipartisan charter.
Town Attorney said that because elections are dealt with by the county, it would not violate the town charter.
"With an issue like this, I always ask the question, ‘What problem are we trying to solve?’" said councilmember Charlie Waddell.
He said there was no problem to solve because a resident could go to the government center early and return later that day or send the ballot in by mail.
Councilmember Dave Kirby said he was not comfortable passing the resolution for the time being.
Olem said the government center is about 30 minutes away, approximately 10 miles.
"So if you’re an individual that has to take the bus, that trip could take you an hour and a half to go over there and vote if you wanted to vote absentee in person, because you weren’t going to be in town on Tuesday," she said. "Or, like many people, like my next door neighbor, he leaves before 7 in the morning and gets home after 7 at night."
She said that working in D.C. and the commute can create issues for those who want to vote within the designated hours.
"This is simply giving people in Herndon the access they want," she said.
IN OTHER BUSINESS, Francisco Antonio Gomez of the Town of Herndon Department of Public Works received a certificate of appreciation from town council members. Additionally, A.N.D. Contractors, Inc. was awarded the bid for Spring Street utility improvements. They bid the lowest of six contractors at $621,769.39.
CORRECTED: In the April 2 issue of the Herndon/Oak Hill Connection, a reporter misidentified information on the Herndon Town Council meeting. The vote to add a Herndon in-person absentee voting location in addition to the Fairfax Government Center was denied 6-1. Mayor Lisa Merkel awaited a cost estimate before presenting the resolution.