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Hickory Ridge recommends Village Election Reforms

The Hickory Ridge Special Committee on Election Review has issued preliminary recommendations to modify the election proceedings used in the annual Hickory Ridge Village election.

This special committee was created by the Village Board and the members of the committee were hand-picked by Village Board chair Lisa Dean (who does not reside in the Village of Hickory Ridge) to review the election procedure and recommend changes to election processes. The commonality between the majority of members of this special committee and the majority of members of the Village Board is opposition to the redevelopment of the Hickory Ridge Village Center.

Citing a goal of preventing corporate interference in Hickory Ridge's election, the preliminary recommendations from this special committee include the following:

- Eliminate online voting

- Cap the amount candidates may spend on their campaign and require disclosure of all campaign expenditures

- Require disclosure of campaign donations and contributions (monetary or in-kind)

- Require candidates to pledge not to accept campaign donations from certain "prohibited entities"

- Require disclosure any campaign activity made by a third party on behalf of a candidate even if such activity is unknown by the candidate (the committee recommendation is that candidates must make a good faith effort to discover and disclose any such activity).

- If elected, a candidate who has received campaign contributions or for which a third-party has campaigned on behalf on that candidate, would be automatically recused from any Board matters involving such third-party.

-Revise the Conflict and Ethics Policies of the Village Board to reflect these policies and require candidates to read, complete, agree, and sign 8 legal documents containing legal requirements and new campaign disclosure forms.

-Candidates for Village Board who cease to be members of the Associations prior to the election should not remain eligible for candidacy and the term of a Village Board member would automatically terminate if they cease to be members of the Association.

Comments on these recommendations are being accepted by Friday December 31 at noon. Comments should be submitted to The special election committee will finalize their recommendations via a vote on January 5, 2022. After the special election committee finalizes their recommendation, the Village Board will review the recommendations during their January 10, 22 meeting and ultimately vote on whether or not they should be implemented for the 2022 Village elections, which will occur in March and April of 2022. More information is available on the Hickory Ridge special election committee website.

My Thoughts

On Online Voting: The 2021 election allowed Hickory Ridge residents an option to cast votes either online, by mail, or in-person. As a result, 290 out of 815 votes in the 2021 election were cast online and helped contribute to an 87% increase in voter participation from the last contested election. Online balloting in 2021 was conducted by sending a unique ID number to each Hickory Ridge household via regular mail, which must then be entered online to access the ballot. No instances or accusations of voter fraud occurred. Online voting was also used in the villages of Long Reach and Wilde Lake in 2021, without any reported problems. Nonetheless, this special committee has recommended that online balloting no longer be an option for Hickory Ridge moving forward because the special committee has concluded that in no circumstances can online voting be 100% guaranteed to be secure. To me, the benefit of increased voter participation outweighs any potential security risk. Nonetheless, if online voting is indeed eliminated, I would suggest that mail-in ballots with postage-paid return envelops should be sent to all members of the community association.

On New Candidate Disclosure Requirements: Under existing election rules, candidates who wish to serve on Village Boards need only be a resident of Hickory Ridge and submit a 150-word candidate statement. This has allowed residents to easily submit their candidacy to be considered for the Village Board. These new disclosure requirements, no matter how well-intended, would make submitting candidacy much more onerous and may discourage residents from running to volunteer on the Board. The special commitment has proposed 8 new forms full of legalese that candidates would need to review and sign, and disclose requirements that would mandate candidates submit paperwork listing every contribution, whether a monetary donation and in-kind contributions, asd well as campaign expenditures. At a minimum, I believe that these forms should be condensed into a single document.

On Third-Party Activity: The proposed rules regarding third party campaign activity could result in an elected candidate being unable to vote on important issues based on actions conducted by third parties that are completely outside a candidate's control. The proposed rules appears to set up a process where an elected candidate can be challenged that some action by a third party, unbeknownst to the candidate and completely outside the candidate's control, is considered "campaign activity", and I fear some may attempt to use this provision to silence a board member who brings a perspective to the board in which they disagree.

It should also be noted the Hickory Ridge Community Association is comprised of all property owners in Hickory Ridge, both residential and commercial. As such, businesses that own property in Hickory Ridge are also members of the association, pay a Columbia Association annual charge that funds Village Operations, and can vote in village elections. So, these election changes being proposed can unintentionally prohibit existing commercial community association members from having the same rights to participate in the community association affairs as residential community association members.

On Residency: The special election also considered whether existing Board members who move out of Hickory Ridge during their term can remain eligible for candidacy, as in the case of current Board Chair Lisa Dean. The preliminary recommendation of the special committee is that such an individual should not be allowed to run for the Board again. This is a preliminary recommendation, and like the other potential changes I have outlined in this article, is subject to a final vote of this special committee and approval by the Village Board.

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