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Why Won’t the Ladera Ranch Civic Council Disclose the Number of Votes Cast?

The Ladera Ranch Civic Council has announced the results of its most recent election:

Results of the Board elections were announced at the September 16 Board Meeting.  All four incumbents will retain their seats on the Board.  The results are: Todd Stearns received votes from 66% of the members voting, Jeff Hamilton 59%, Jett McCormick 57%, Scott Weisgerber 45%, Mike Ellzey 21% and Joel Almeida 17%.  The Council thanks Mike and Joel for running in the election and will look for ways for them to participate in the Civic Council.  Both are well qualified and will be an asset to the LRCC in the future.  The election of Board officers will occur at the Council’s October 20, 2014 meeting.

The election information provided by the Council is confusing and potentially misleading.  First, the percentages total more than 100% which, although technically correct, is inherently confusing.  Implicit in the percentages is the fact that each voting member was entitled to cast up to four votes (for the four vacancies).  The release gives only the percentage of members who voted for the candidates — it does not say how many votes each candidate received, whether as a percentage or otherwise.  The percentages total to 265% — if you assumed each member cast votes for four different candidates, the total should be 400%.  Thus, a substantial number of members cast more than one (or all) of their votes for a single candidate, but nowhere does the Civic Council give us any measure of the number of votes each candidate actually received.  The number of voters who voted for a candidate does not necessarily indicate who won the election.  At best, the Civic Council’s disclosure is irrelevant to the actual election results.  At worst, it could be misleading.  For example, if the 21% of voters who voted for Ellzey cast all four votes for him and the 66% who voted for Stearns only cast one vote for him, the statement above would be correct but Ellzey would have beat Stearns in the election.

So why does the Civic Council not simply provide the actual number of votes cast for each candidate?  Instead of this bass-ackwards method of reporting the percentage out of 265% each candidate received, why does the Civic Council refuse to just say Candidate X received Y votes out of Z total votes cast?  Outside of North Korea, literally every election in the world reports the number of votes cast for the candidates.

Perhaps the reason why the Civic Council does not publish the actual number of votes is that the number of people who vote in Ladera Ranch Civic Council elections is disturbingly low.  Ladera Ranch has a population of over 23,000 people.  If all 1,000 members of the Civic Council voted, that still only represents 4% of the population.  If — as we think is likely — a small minority of members voted, the mandate would be still lower.  For example, a turnout of 200 members would mean that the Civic Council reflects the vote of about 0.8% of the population.  Sadly, if voter apathy is to blame, that’s not the Civic Council’s fault.  But it does question whether the Civic Council is the appropriate entity to be engaging on real governance issues.

We are not aware of any filter employed to screen for inaccurate or ineligible voter registration.  A few years ago, we raised questions about the influx of Civic Council memberships right before that election and whether the Civic Council was properly vetting its membership or verifying its election results.  We previously noted that the voting did not begin on the date the Council announced it would begin, and it did not close on the date it was scheduled to close.  If you have ever participated in an HOA election — with election monitors and attorneys present ensuring full transparency — you may recognize how troubling the Civic Council election process is by comparison.

The Civic Council is an important institution in Ladera Ranch.  Ladera Ranch residents deserve a local voice empowered to represent their interests to the County and other local government agencies.  However, if the Civic Council represents the mandate of fewer than 1% of the population and cannot be bothered to conduct elections in an open, professional and transparent manner, we have to question whether it has the credibility to be that voice.

We encourage the Civic Council to: (1) publish the raw voting data from this year’s elections (and all elections going forward), (2) disclose to the community how it verifies that members are eligible to join the Civic Council and participate in elections, and (3) disclose to the community how election results are tabulated and verified for accuracy.

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