Frankford resident Liz Carpenter spoke to the Town council at its monthly meeting on Feb. 2 about her concern regarding “profiling and discrimination” after hearing that a number of Town residents who filled out voter registration applications were sent a letter regarding their citizenship.
“It came to our attention that a certain number of voters who were apparently accepted as registered voters at the last town meeting — their names were read by the Town Council president [Joanne Bacon] — after that meeting, they received from the Town a certified letter indicating that they would have to prove that they were United States citizens in order to vote in the election coming up on Saturday.”
Carpenter said she was displeased with the action, but not because she is in favor of allowing those who reside in the country illegally to vote in town elections.
“My primary issue is that they were chosen to receive this letter based on the fact, apparently, whether they were born in another country or whether they had a specific last name — specifically Hispanic or Turkish.”
She emphasized that asking on an application where someone is born “does not necessarily equate with citizenship in a country.”
“I think the action taken has caused intimidation, can be viewed as an attempt to control the outcome of the election, and deter and control the voice of the registered voter. It is my feeling that that action has violated voter rights.”
Carpenter said it is her belief voter rights have been violated because, when last she checked, the Town’s website — which does not have the Town’s updated Charter shown — does not state that a registered voter needs to be a U.S. citizen.
“I think it’s fair to say the Town is obviously promoting the election on the website. I think it’s fair to say that anyone who goes to the website would assume that the information which they happen to find would be assumed to be correct, legal and valid.”
Carpenter said she was concerned that the applications submitted went through town hall, were placed on an agenda and were read into the minutes at the January council meeting.
“And after that fact, the Town takes an egregious act and sends a certified letter indicating that, ‘Oh, well — sorry. You’re going to have to prove you’re a U.S. citizen.’ Requiring that of some people because of birthplace or apparent last name, when you’re not requiring it of everyone, is not acceptable and not fair.”
She added that, while some notices about the election had been corrected to include the U.S. citizenship requirement, other notices had not.
“I stopped by after church to the post office yesterday, and the flyer hanging, indicating voter qualifications, does not indicate that you have to be a U.S. citizen. So, depending upon where you decide to visit in town, you might come across information that you do have to be a citizen or that you don’t.
“It is not the voters’ problem or the citizens’ problem that town hall cannot seem to get the correct information disseminated to the residents. These people should not be victims of that.”
She added that she had sent a letter outlining her concerns to Sussex County Department of Elections Deputy Director Jean Turner, who forwarded it to Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader, who had responded. Carpenter went on to say that she had sent a response to that letter but had yet to receive additional correspondence from either party.
Schrader said it is not unusual for U.S. citizenship to be part of the criteria for being able to vote in a municipal election. He said that, after a brief search, he found 10 towns in Sussex County, as well as the State of Delaware, that require voters to be U.S. citizens.
“The process of sending letters to applicants that showed they were born outside the United States is parallel to the one the State of Delaware uses when you register to vote and don’t have proof of citizenship,” he said, adding that he was told that not one of the residents who were sent the letter followed up with proof of citizenship.
Carpenter said that, while she understands the requirement, but is upset with the mistake in disseminating the correct information to the Town’s residents.
“How do you not know I’m Canadian? How do you know I didn’t lie?” she added.
The applications in question, said Carpenter, were delivered to town hall by a third party, which indicated such registration was accepted practice.
“As an aside, I brought my husband’s in,” she said. “I didn’t have to show proof of address for him. I didn’t have to show his driver’s license. I didn’t have to show anything to hand in his voter application, and he will be here Saturday to vote.”
Carpenter requested that the Town send another letter to those residents, delivered no later than Feb. 5, apologizing for their initial letter and inviting them to vote in Saturday’s election only, and that the Town also consider adopting the Motor Voter Law.
“You’re then asking the town council to waive a Charter requirement that somebody be a U.S. citizen,” said Schrader. “I do want to point out one thing — you can register all year long, folks.”
Resident Jerry Smith said that, prior to the Town’s 2012 Charter change, the Town did allow non-U.S. citizens to vote in the municipal election.
“The Town apparently selectively uses what it wants from the old Charter,” he said.
Bacon told those residents in attendance that she was aware of the letters sent to those who were thought to not have been born in the U.S.
Town Administrator Terry Truitt said she had initially contacted Turner following the Town’s January meeting, where she was directed to research having an interpreter at the election.
“When I contacted Jean Turner, Jean Turner questioned why the Town was going to be the first to set a precedent for using an interpreter, and why we felt we needed one,” explained Truitt, noting that she had responded to Turner by saying the Town was trying to be proactive, as it has a large population of Hispanic residents.
“She said, ‘Are they U.S. citizens?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know,’” recalled Truitt. “She said, ‘What information do you know?’ and I read it exactly verbatim. Of course, she had the website, she had the Charter. She said if their birthplace states any place other that the United States, they need to show residence and show they are now naturalized.”
Truitt added that Turner had stated that part of the process to become a naturalized citizen includes a requirement for some fluency in written and spoken English.
Truitt said she drafted the letter with Bacon, at the advice of Turner, giving those who registered a little over two and a half weeks to provide the Town with proof of naturalization.
“I didn’t get a call or hear from anyone,” she said.
“I don’t think there’s anything the town council can do tonight,” said Schrader, noting the topic was not on the agenda for that evening’s meeting.
“There will be no resolution to that tonight,” said Bacon.
The issue was scheduled to be discussed in appeals held before State Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove on Wednesday, after Coastal Point’s press deadline. Manlove was expected to issue a decision for both complaints on Wednesday night. Visit the Coastal Point’s website at www.coastalpoint.com or see our social media accounts on Facebook (www.facebook.com/coastalpoint) and Twitter (@coastalpoint) for late-breaking updates.