Keep it simple: Fenwick committee aims for simpler rules

After a rocky 2015 election, the Town of Fenwick Island is being proactive on voter registration. The Ad-Hoc Election Committee met Dec. 4 to begin educating residents and property owners.

The August election is over, so Councilwoman Julie Lee, committee chair, wants to focus on educating voters for next summer’s municipal election.

“We’ll just move forward for now and encourage everyone to do that,” said Lee.

The ad-hoc committee is separate and distinct from the Board of Elections. The committee won’t change any voting requirements, but they’ll work to create a simple document in “non-legalese” language, explaining how to vote, who’s eligible and how to register.

They began drafting a notice for the Town’s winter newsletter. They’ll also write a “rack card” (or brochure) for people to grab from Town Hall. Finally, they hope to include an actual voter registration form in the spring newsletter.

“The object here is that everyone knows how to register and has time to register before the 30th [of June],” Lee said. “We want to involve more people.”

They’re aiming for clarity and accuracy, but some sections of town code left them shaking their heads. For instance, the Town Code states that “registered individuals … who have failed to vote in the past five municipal elections” can be removed from the voting rolls. However, Fenwick hasn’t had an election in at least that many years, which has made for murky waters.

“I never removed anybody from the database unless they were deceased or they sold their property and I knew they weren’t in the area,” said Town Clerk Linda Poole.

They also worked through confusion over deadlines and eligibility.

“Every property in town is eligible to vote,” Poole said.

That includes both the property owners and full-time residents of a single property. All residents are guaranteed a vote, whether they own or rent their home.

“I’m not sure that I like that,” said committee member Vicki Carmean. She suggested the Town reconsider its policy of allowing both property owners and resident non-owners to vote. (Delaware Code prohibits towns from changing the qualifications of those already entitled to vote in municipal elections.)

For instance, Lee and her husband are both named as property owners on a lease. They’re not in a trust. They can both vote on behalf of that property. However, a trust or artificial entity only gets one vote.

Meanwhile, the “one man, one vote” saying holds true, as each individual gets only one vote, regardless of how many properties are owned.

When voter registration applications are received, Town Hall needs to double-check the residency and ownership records, Lee said. But there’s a challenge: Sussex County doesn’t always tell Poole about deed transfers. People could show up at Town Hall to register with neither the property owner nor the County notifying her about the new owners.

The ad-hoc committee is meant to inform voters. But when the rack card development process has ended, the committee may send a list of suggestions to the Charter & Ordinance Committee to streamline or clarify the election process.

For complete voting information, people should go online to or call Town Hall at (302) 539-3011.

Fenwick Island’s next Ad-Hoc Election Committee meeting will be Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, at 9:30 a.m. at Town Hall.