RA Board Votes to Keep Member Ballot Info Secret

RA Board meetingReston Association’s Board of Directors voted Thursday to pass a motion that will keep all voting records confidential.

The board says RA will continue to publish aggregated voter turnout reports, including turnout percentage by voting district and property type, however it said it was “in the best interest of members to not release information about who voted in any RA election or referendum.”

RA says “protecting the privacy of members and fortifying the integrity of the election process were the deciding factors in the board’s decision.”

The motion passed 6-2 with one abstention (South Lakes Director Julie Bitzer). At-Large Director Ray Wedell and Hunters Woods/Dogwood voted against the proposal and were quite vocal at the meeting.

“RA should pride itself on openness, honesty, and fairness,” said Wedell. “It has been anything but in this case.”

The rule is effective immediately. It is departure from the rules of national, state and county elections, where voter participation records are made available. Elections Committee Chair Ed Robichaud said those elections are different because votes are by registered voters. In RA elections, votes are by properties.

“Protecting the privacy of our members is a responsibility we take seriously,” said Ellen Graves, RA’s board president. “By ensuring residents that their voting records will remain confidential, we hope more members will participate in the election process, which is crucial to shaping Reston’s future.”

Fewer than 15 percent of households typically vote in the RA Board elections each spring, RA records show. There was about double that in last spring’s member referendum on whether to purchase the former Reston Visitor’s Center.

The motion came about after a Reston resident, Irwin Flashman, has spent more than a year asking RA for voting records concerning board elections and last spring’s member referendum on the Tetra building.

RA had given Flashman voting records, which included which households voted but not how they voted, in the past. RA said then it was obligated to release the information under its bylaws and Virginia law.

Flashman said at the time he wanted the records so he could analyze and try to boost the number of locals who cast their ballots.

“This is an overall part of the lack of transparency that seems to be a part of the RA board,” he told Reston Now last week. He also outlined his thoughts in a Reston Now op-ed and spoke at last night’s meeting.

“This is a poorly thought-out attempt to cloak something in secrecy that should be open to the membership,” he said.

Several Reston Association members addressed the board during the member comment section of Thursday’s board meeting.

“The resolution is a really, really bad idea,” said Lake Anne resident John Lovaas, who formerly served on the RA Board. “It’s an anti-democratic idea. It [access to voter records] has been the practice of the RA board forever, as far as I know. Members had access to records of residences that voted. It is disturbing. Your press release said that [releasing records] is threatening the confidentiality of ballot. That is just plain false.”

Meanwhile, Flashman said he has filed a complaint with the state ombudsman about RA’s actions.

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