Frankford election board to hear citizens’ complaints

The Frankford Board of Elections (BOE) will hold a hearing this week to review two citizens’ complaints regarding the Town’s upcoming municipal election.

On Friday, Jan. 30, at 1 p.m. at the Frankford Public Library, a special hearing will take place before board members Pam Hoban, Elma Gray and Peggy Schaffer.

In a four-page complaint, dated Jan. 15, Frankford resident Greg Welch stated that there are several issues that are “denying our community a fair election,” many of which he believes were created with the Town’s 2012 Charter change.

“The 2012 Charter amendment made it a requirement to be a registered qualified voter of the Town to be a council member. Prior to this amendment, neither the Town or State had that requirement. The 2012 Charter amendment discarded the established voter registration and candidacy filing deadlines without adopting or establishing current deadlines. The 2012 Charter amendment adopted the State’s procedure for absentee voting, as outlined in Delaware Title 15. The Town is not allowing absentee voting in this year’s election,” wrote Welch in his complaint.

“These conditions are denying our Town a fair 2015 election.”

The election is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 7, from 1 to 4 p.m. In his complaint, Welch stated that, with only a three-hour window for citizens to vote, the Town should allow for absentee voting.

Welch also opined that the Town’s “advertised voter registration deadline of Dec. 31, 2014, is not legally established and incorrect. Frankford’s election is on Feb. 7, 2015. This deadline is 37 days prior to the election.”

He went on to state that State Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove had echoed his concerns in her 2014 opinion regarding his eligibility to run in the Town’s February 2014 election.

“‘I am troubled by Frankford’s view that its charter requires persons to register 30 days before the election. It is possible that a person who wished to vote or run as a candidate relied on this incorrect deadline and so were prejudiced. Moreover, this incorrect deadline might have created a barrier to voting, which is exactly the concern I expressed in my 2012 opinion…’” he quoted her as having stated in 2014.

“‘I urge Frankford to cease enforcing the 30-day registration requirement and adopt a deadline for voter registration that maximizes the opportunity to register to vote while giving Frankford the time to administer its election.’”

Welch also stated that he believes the candidacy deadline set for the 2015 election is incorrect and was illegally set.

“The 2012 Charter amendment discarded the deadline for filing for candidacy that was previously 10 days prior to the election. The State does not have an established candidacy filing deadline, and our Town did not establish one after discarding the previous charter’s deadline. Our town clerk set the candidacy filing deadline 31 days prior to the election without any legal procedure or authority,” he wrote.

Welch said that, in her 2014 decision, Manlove had stated that the deadline related to candidacy filing “flows directly” from Delaware Code Title 15 § 7553.

“Commissioner Manlove’s statement in her 2014 decision was incorrect. The mandatory notice requirements of Delaware Title 15 and FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] do not require a candidacy filing deadline of 31 days before the election in any municipality in Delaware, including Frankford,” he wrote in the complaint.

“For decades, the Charter’s established candidacy filing deadline, 10 days prior to the election, complied with Title 15, as well as FOIA, by simply advertising this date on the Town’s bulletin board and the post office’s bulletin board. We now also have a Town website that is available to meet these advertising deadlines. Commissioner Manlove’s decision ignored the fact that our town clerk does not have the authority to set these deadlines.”

Welch stated that the deadlines that had been previously established in the town charter had not been reestablished since the 2012 Charter amendment.

“A proper process would be to have our council discuss and set deadlines before the election. This did not happen. These dates are now being established by our clerk. The Town of Frankford is not using these deadlines to administer its election. They are being employed to deny citizens voter registration and candidacy.

“Our Town could easily allow voter registration up to one week before the election. They are stopping registration 38 days before the election,” he wrote. “These illegal deadlines were used in the 2014 election to deny me registration so I could not be a candidate in that year’s election.”

Welch also stated that the voter registration process has been misrepresented regarding his eligibility to vote in the municipality’s elections.

“For the past decade and a half, all parties involved agreed that I produced my driver’s license, my voter polling place card and filled out several Frankford voter application cards. Commissioner Manlove’s 2014 decisions statement, ‘Mr. Welch is not a qualified voter because he never registered to vote in Frankford elections,’ is incorrect,” he wrote.

“Documentation, in the form of receipts of voter registration, Town meeting minutes, complaints to the [Department of Justice], appeal hearings with the Delaware election commissioner, all show that all parties agree and are fully aware that I have produced my driver’s license, and polling place card, and filled out the town registration card several times.”

Welch stated that the Town and State have been spending thousands of dollars to “misrepresent and misuse these deadlines and processes to deny our Town [a] fair election.”

In addition to Welch’s complaint, a three-page complaint from resident Jerry Smith to Council President Joanne Bacon and Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader dated Jan. 20, stated that the “hours of the election are no longer delineated in the charter. The ‘Town Council’ has not decided and established what the hours of the election are to be — a requirement of the current charter. Frankford is attempting to use the hours established under the excised portion of the previous Charter.”

Smith also stated that the he could find nothing to establish the appointment of the Town’s Board of Elections, as laid out in Delaware Code Title 15 § 7551 (a), “A Board of Elections shall be appointed as provided in the municipality’s charter or code and shall oversee the election of the municipality’s government.”

Smith’s concerns were echoed by Welch in a Jan. 25 letter to Manlove and Sussex County Department of Elections Deputy Director Jean Turner.

“Another issue that has been created by the 2012 amendment is the Town discarded without replacing or reestablishing the process and provisions for establishing a Town Board of Elections. Delaware State Code Title 15 requires that our charter or code contain the process of appointing this board and the terms they will serve…” wrote Welch.

“Frankford is in violation of Title 15 chapter IV subchapter 7551 (a) (c) (j). Our current charter has no mention of a Board of Elections. There is no process provided for establishing this board. There are no terms set in the charter.”

Smith also wrote that the Town is out of compliance with Delaware Code Title 15 § 7551 (j), requiring the names and contact information of the Board to be posted in town hall and on the municipality’s website.

“It has not posted Board of Elections members and their contact information on its website or in the building where the municipal government meets. Perhaps, because it doesn’t have a Board of Election legally established. Frankford has not complied with the State law.”

In his Jan. 25 letter, Welch wrote that the BOE members were announced at the Dec. 8, 2014 council meeting.

“Under ‘New Business,’ the minutes state, ‘Pres. Joanne Bacon announced the standing members of the Election Board have been activated for the upcoming Town Election scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015.’

“The members were not named, and their terms were not defined. Our town council did not go through a process of choosing or vetting board members. President Bacon simply announced that the clerk activated the standing board.

“The Town currently has no legislation or genuine process that sanctions the existence of the Board of Elections,” he wrote. “This unsanctioned, unadvertised, illegal Board of Elections does not have the authority to oversee the scheduled hearing. The intentional use of this illegally constructed Election Board is being employed to deny our town a fair hearing and a fair election.”

Citing Delaware Code Title 15 § 7553 (f), Smith quoted, “‘The Department of Elections may reject any election notice that is filed late or that is materially incorrect. If such rejection results the violation of subsection (a) or (b) of this section, the municipality shall reschedule the election in accordance with this section.’

“The Notice of Election, Solicitation of Candidates and other election notices include times, dates and deadlines not set by the charter or State law which are materially incorrect since they were not decided by the Council as required but instead by an employee,” he argued.

Smith requested that the Town’s upcoming municipal election be rescheduled.

“For the reasons mentioned, not all-inclusive, I’m requesting the Town ask the Department of Elections to reject the notices and the municipality reschedule this election in accordance with (f) until corrections can be made, particularly since Frankford has a sordid history in some cases of not being in compliance with laws, rules and guidelines.”

The hearing is open to the public; however, public comment is not permitted. Unlike a council meeting or workshop, only the board and those who filed complaints may actively participate in the hearing.

According to Delaware Code Title 15 § 7552, ¬¬within 24 hours of the special public meeting, the BOE must issue a written decision on whether or not they find the complaint to have merit.

“Decisions and orders of a municipal Board of Elections may be appealed to the State Election Commissioner in writing within two business days of the Board’s decision and order. The State Election Commissioner shall take testimony at a special public hearing that the Commissioner conducts within four business days following receipt of the appeal.”

The Frankford Public Library is located at 8 Main Street in downtown Frankford.