Frankford election approaches, residents question process

The Town of Frankford will hold its annual election on Feb. 7, with voters to fill two seats, currently held by Council President Joanne Bacon and Secretary/Treasurer Cheryl Workman.

Incumbents Bacon and Workman filed to serve again, as did residents Dorsey Dear, Sr. and Velicia Melson.

The election will be held between 1 and 4 p.m. on Feb. 7, at town hall. Those who go to cast their vote in February must remember to take with them a proof of identification and address, such as a current State of Delaware driver’s license or ID card and a current utility bill, bank statement, credit card statement, a paycheck or another type of bill or statement.

Those elected will serve a two-year term on council. At the Town’s March 2 meeting, the council will reorganize and select council members’ positions.

At the Town’s January meeting, Town Administrator Terry Truitt said that 48 residents had registered to vote in the election. Voter registration closed on Dec. 31.

Residents Greg Welch and Elizabeth Carpenter asked council why absentee voting was not an option for Frankford residents.

Bacon said she had posed the question to the Town’s solicitor Dennis Schrader in an email, who responded that the Town’s Charter was amended by the General Assembly in 2012, to read, “The conduct of absentee voting shall be governed by the State of Delaware.”

He added that Delaware Code Title 15 § 7571 reads, “‘Any person qualified under the provisions of a municipal charter to vote by absentee ballot in any municipal election held in that municipality may vote by absentee ballot for any reason authorized by that municipality’s charter or ordinances.’

“Prior to that amendment there was no absentee balloting provided for in the Frankford Charter, and that remains true today,” and as the Town’s Charter had previously not provided a provision for absentee ballots, absentee voting is not available in the Town currently. Schrader was not in attendance at the Monday meeting.

“I will say it is not definitely laid out that it is allowed,” said resident Gerry Smith.

Council said they had no problem with absentee balloting, but would like to make sure in doing so, that the Town was following the law.

“I think a lot of our residents don’t work normal 9-5, Monday through Friday jobs. We’re middle-class Americans working every hour that we can to make ends meet. I think you’re going to cut off a large portion of the population from voting if you don’t have absentee voting,” added Carpenter.

Earlier this week, Schrader told the Coastal Point that he had approached the Department of Elections and its legal representation in early December for their input, and has yet to receive a response.

At Monday’s meeting, Carpenter also asked how Dec. 31 was chosen as the voter registration cutoff date. Carpenter said she was concerned that the dates chosen are arbitrary, and asked council to extend voter registration to Jan. 16.

In the Town’s Charter, published on the State of Delaware’s website, it reads “Every person who is a citizen of the United States; is at least eighteen (18) years of age; has resided within the corporate limits of the Town for at least thirty (30) days prior to the next Town election; and is registered as required by law, shall be a qualified voter of the Town. Every qualified voter of the Town shall be entitled to vote in any or all Town elections.”

Welch said that he agreed with Carpenter and quoted State Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove’s Jan. 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 before the election. It is possible that persons who wished to vote or run as a candidate relied on this incorrect deadline and so were prejudiced. Moreover, this incorrect deadline may have created a barrier to voting,’” read Welch, noting the Town cutoff voter registration 37 days prior to the election. “…I urge Frankford to cease enforcing a 30 day registration requirement and adopt a deadline for voter registration that maximizes the opportunity to register to vote while giving Frankford the time it needs to properly administer its election.’

“These illegal cutoff dates didn’t allow me to vote or run last year,” Welch added.

In her Jan. 2014 decision, however, Manlove wrote that Welch had “made no attempt to register to vote in the Frankford election,” and that he was even given the opportunity to register during the hearing.

“Ms. Truitt invited Mr. Welch to register immediately upon the close of the hearing, although that registration would not be effective in the February 1 election, and handed him registrations forms for both Mr. Welch and his wife. Mr. Welch did not fill out a registration form before leaving my office.”

Carpenter asked that with a large Hispanic population residing in town, if any of the Town correspondence or notifications were available in Spanish.

“With our population of nonspeaking residents, how do we include them in our election?”

Resident Dean Esham asked if there should be a translator at the Town’s election.

Bacon said she would speak to the State’s Board of Election for their input.

Carpenter asked if it would be appropriate to delay the Town’s election. Welch added that the election hours should be extended as well.

The Town’s election, set out by the Town’s Charter, states that the Town’s election shall be held on the first Saturday in February. The date of the election cannot be altered without a Charter change.

Schrader told Coastal Point earlier this week that voter registration can be difficult as the Town follows laws governed by the state regarding municipal elections, which can be complicated due to the holiday season.

“State law works from the election date backwards. It says you have to do certain things 20 days, 30 days, 40 days, beforehand, depending upon what the topic is,” he explained. “Sometimes those days fall on weekends or legal holidays. That’s what makes it complicated.”

He noted that the advertising of voter registration, solicitation for candidates, and election notice were sent for the Department of Elections, where they were reviewed and approved.

Schrader said he would recommend a Charter change, to move the Town’s municipal election as to give residents the opportunity to register and participate in the elections, without the holiday conflict.

“It’s a difficult time to get things like registration done,” he said. “I would love to see them have them move the election date to the first Saturday of March.”

The Town’s election will be held on Feb. 7, between 1 and 4 p.m. at town hall. Frankford Town Hall is located at 5 Main Street, and may be reached by calling (302) 732-9424.