As Voter Turnout Push Continues, Big Issues Draw Little Interest in RA Elections

by Fatimah Waseem March 2, 2018 at 2:00 pm 35 Comments

Big issues, including ambitious growth plans, continue to draw scant attention as voting for Reston Association’s elections begins on Monday.

The beleaguered issue of lower voter turnout, which has hovered between 11 and 19 percent over the last four years, belies the importance of the election. RA commands an $18 million budget, funded in part through assessments from property owners.

In recent years, RA has pushed to boost voter turnout. Last year, nearly 19 percent of eligible voters participated in RA’s election for the Board of Directors – departing from a trend where turnout remained around 14 percent the three years prior.

But RA staff and residents say much more remains to be done.

This year, RA’s elections committee hopes to push turnout beyond 20 percent — a goal that Caren Anton, co-chair of RA’s elections committee acknowledges is a somewhat of a low standard.

“It’s not so much that people are not aware that it’s not happening,” Anton, who has served on the committee for roughly non-consecutive three years, said. “We’re making a real effort to call for candidates.”

Based on a Reston Now analysis of RA elections data over the last four years, voter turnout is significantly higher when elections are contested.

The committee pushed hard to court candidates last year. For the first time, RA will host an open house with all 13 candidates who are vying for four open board seats this Sunday from noon to 2 p.m at The Lake House. The roster of candidates promises a contested race, unlike recent elections for the seat of the Hunter Mill District Supervisor and state Del. Ken Plum.

The impact of past strategies like mobile voting sites at apartments and community centers and postcard mailings has been “minimal,” Anton said. In 2015 and 2016, the elections committee received $54,4000 in reimbursement. The largest expense was a $51,000 services contract with Intelliscan, Inc, which tabulates election ballots and certifies results.

RA staff and volunteers will also distribute a flyer with voting information at Metro Stations, community centers, shops, restaurants, libraries and on cars. Posters on RA property and roadways will go up next week.

Still, limited election engagement is perplexing to some, and RA’s board has grappled with the issue in recent years. The question of whether or not the outcome of RA’s election represents the voice of RA members often elicits pause.

Causes of low turnout have not been studied. Anecdotal evidence suggests members more invested in the community or who have lived in Reston for several years tend to participate more, sources say. Nearly four percent of eligible renters of apartments voted last year, with residents who own property boasting higher turnout.

“Some people think it’s not going to make a difference. And that’s certainly not the case,” Anton said. “It is important to vote and it does matter. We’re doing everything we can to make people aware.”

It’s no surprise the card slated to promote the election reads “important issues face Reston” in bold typeface.

Voting runs from March 5 through April 2. Paper ballots will be mailed on Monday. Electronic ballots can be accessed on RA’s website during the election period.

  • Donald

    It’s been a huge issue for a very long time. RA isn’t alone, look at the turnout for the RCA. They sometimes have zero applicants for a board seat.


    • Tetra Troll

      Nobody votes for RCA because the organization has no power, no budget, no authority and no reason for continued existence.

      RCA was created when Resston’s developers controlled RHOA and were unresponsive to the concerns of Restonians. And RA is now controlled by its members. RCA has off-loaded the P&Z function to a group hand-picked by the Supervisor and Reston 20/20 was cut loose from RCA.

      So what purpose does RCA serve?

      The low turn outs for RCC have a similar reasons. The budget is controlled by the Board of Supervisors and the RCC employees get County paychecks. The RCC Board of Governors is a strictly advisory gabfest. So why bother to vote.

      • Donald

        Agree with your statement – “Nobody votes for RCA because the organization has no power, no budget, no authority and no reason for continued existence.”

        Unfortunately, (my perception) everyone associated with RCA believes they are the ultimate authority.


  • Greg

    “Causes of low turnout have not been studied.”

    For the love of all things good and well, let’s leave it that way. No more consultants, studies, special directors, and not so much as a penny of RA assessment money spent on it.

    Get a political science student to do a thesis on it. For free.

    • Donald

      Candidate Johnson is proposing a “Community Lifestyle Survey” if he is elected.


      • Greg

        Have Johnson look up and read the PROS survey. Little has changed from the time it was done.


        • Tetra Troll


          Any candidate for RA Board who has not read that survey and proposes another survey/study/focus group/seance should be immediately drowned in Lake Newport

          from the Lake House porch

          at sunrise!

          • Donald

            Do know the study recommended pool closures.

            At the same time it did promote new indoor facilities, including indoor tennis, as well as indoor aquatics.


          • Greg

            Shadowood and Tall Oaks pools are still underused. Last to open and first to close every year. Very small and dated. They should be closed.

            Recreation, indoors and out, is still needed, but we don’t need a special tax district to support one version of it (RCC), RA another, and the county a third.

            And, no we should not combine the resources of all three entities and build a $150 million facility. Less is more, and users of any of the facilities should pay more of their costs.

            As you may recall, RA asked members whether they wanted pool and tennis costs rolled into the assessment. The answer was no, but the RA did it anyway. The assessments increased about $55 a year IIFC.

            Same thing with a HQ building. Spend big $$ on a member referendum. We were told the old HQ was in imminent danger of being razed (news flash: it wasn’t and still stands today). So what did RA do, rented way too much space in a terrible location with virtually no value added beyond the excessively large office and conference spaces. More millions wasted.



          • Donald

            So, we’re going to spend some serious money in the future.

            New indoor facilities have been begged for by special interest groups (like Ganesan’s above), but boards of the past shut them down.

            Even closing pools, permanently, costs money.


          • Greg

            Don, you are pivoting. Again.


      • dudewe

        Good reason not to vote for Donald. And, 51 K for an election? I will tabulate it for 5K….

    • Tetra Troll

      Most political scientists will tell you that low turn-out is the product of two things:

      1) general satisfaction with the status quo; or

      2) a general perception that the contest will have no impact on the voters’ lives.

      Pick your poison.

      • John Higgins

        Agree, with this prefatory clause to #2: “The organization not being seen as relevant, ….”

        At the last meeting we heard that Reston has been awarded the Bronze Level of bike-friendly communities. (Presumably that means drivers do not generally target bikers.) A question from the board: how much would it cost to earn Silver Level? Are you kidding me? That question alone makes me want to throw my ballot in the recycling bin. (In Herndon I would have said “in the trash.”)

  • Robert Mowbray

    What are the “important issues facing Reston”? Is there a difference between candidates on these issues? What can RA do about them?

    The answers to these questions might provide some clues about low voter turnout?

    • Donald

      In general, trust in local government far outpaces trust at the national level.

      As a result there’s often voting complacency at the local level. I believe Reston is right in the norm with the county as well as other towns and cities in the region.


      • Greg

        Right. But Tetra? And the incompetent CEO?

        • Donald

          Looking at voter/referendum turnouts, roughly 16,000 assessment paying households…

          Don’t care!


    • Greg

      RA can do little, if anything, about land use, growth, density and the other issues it’s wasted time and millions of dollars on.

      It’s a homeowners’ association and nothing more.

      See below for the PROS report for details.

      • John Higgins

        Appreciate very much the link you provided. I need help. Previously, I wandered the website twice for a total of about an hour trying to find that report. “Search” produced multiple links to tennis pro items, but nothing on the PROS report. What was the trick to finding this, I suspect it will be helpful for many other things I cannot find. Thanks.

        • Greg

          I did a google search outside of the expensive, but apparently dysfunctional, RA website.

          “reston association PROS consulting llc report”

          • John Higgins


      • Tetra Troll

        After you read the purpose clause of the Governing Documents, you’ll be disabused of the notion that RA is “just a homeowners association and nothing more.”

        • Greg

          No. Confirmed I am, indeed. Just an HOA (POA if you wish to be pedantic).

    • Donald

      One big important issue to ponder. Who will the new CEO be?

      The slate and friends must already have a name ready to go.

      Wonder who it is?


      • Tetra Toll

        There ain’t none, pal, despite your fevered paranoia.

  • Question if time

    I think we could stimulate voter turnout with some help from Russia but lets not blame this priblem on our antiquated IT system.

  • John Higgins

    Does anyone else find it curious that all candidates have identified improved communication with members as something they would bring to the RA board, yet nary a one has addressed issues here or responded to questions, as provocative as they might be? Come on, candidates, show your stuff. Engage. Take a risk.

    • Donald

      It confirms a failure of imagination, and of leadership — with all the candidates. They are avoiding to talk about the tough choices ahead and devoting most of their energies to rallying their own organized supporters.

      Of course, given the lackadaisical voter turnout, these strategies will likely work.

      For those on the grassroots side of the house, step up. It may be your best opportunity.


    • Greg


      On improving communications, we suggest they start with abolishing the RA magazine.

      Then continue with eliminating most of the assorted directors found here — perhaps starting with this one: Mike Leone Director of Communications and Community Engagement

      and then this one:

      Anna Varone Director of Covenants Administration [email protected]


      • Donald

        From what I heard, the Great Purge has already begun.


        • Greg

          We couldn’t care less about the committees.

          It’s the paid staff that needs to be fired.

          Don’t pivot, Don. Focus.

          • Donald

            I believe the only “staff” the board can fire is the CEO. What do the bylaws say? Mr. Wood may be finding himself in a precarious position.


  • Donald

    Heated discussion on the “Eric Carr for a Better Reston” Facebook page regarding loan payoff..



  • Tetra Troll

    Hell, the Board hasn’t even interviewed a search firm yet.

    Pump the breaks on the paranoia.


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