Ocean View election board examines updates to voting process

This Monday, the Ocean View Board of Elections met to discuss ways to potentially smooth out concerns with voter registration, eligibility and district clarification. Among the items discussed were pending ordinances that will eliminate the troubles the town faced in the elections in April of this year.

“What we’re trying to do is strike a balance between permanent residents and registered voters, so that they’re comparatively equal,” explained Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader. “What people need to realize is that it’s not a matter of being a property owner within the town,” he added of qualifications to vote in town elections.

Committee members agreed that there’s no reason why they shouldn’t prepare for another tight race come April 2008.

“Last year’s elections were pretty exciting,” noted Schrader.

Councilman Dr. Richard Nippes earned his seat in this past April’s election by a margin of only three votes, which came down to absentee ballots.

“It may turn out that this year’s elections are equally exciting, and there may be a great turnout,” Schrader said.

The election board also examined an updated map of the voting districts that is set to be enacted in the form of an ordinance, after a first reading several weeks ago. The pictorial layout, correlated with tax map numbers, should limit confusion related to which of the town’s four districts potential council candidates reside within.

Once passed, the proposed ordinance will allow the map itself to replace the previous map and verbal description of the four-district layout, which had been determined to be in conflict with each other when candidacy eligibility was determined in the 2007 election.

A second reading and voting on the ordinance will be held in January. Final touches are being placed on a handbook clarifying Ocean View’s electoral process, which is to be available next month.

In discussing the district map, Nippes raised concerns about how the town would handle the circumstance of a large number of residents not previously registered who might sign up during a relatively short time, immediately prior to elections, and thus skew district populations.

“If that’s the case,” said Schrader, “we can’t change the districts prior to the next election. It’s something we’ll have to look at again each year, though.”

A significant number of potential voters were also turned away from the previous election, said board members, due to the fact that they did not meet voting requirements – primarily, being registered voters specifically in the town, as opposed to being registered in the state of Delaware or for voting in federal elections.

An ordinance recently introduced that will be acted upon at the council’s next meeting is designed to help prevent this problem. Registration for residents in the town would continue until 10 business days, or two calendar weeks from the election, rather than 30 days, as requirements had previously specified.

Citizens must hold residency in Ocean View for at least six months prior to the election date, as well as taking the extra step to formally register with the town itself, to be eligible to vote.

“A lot of people just couldn’t get around to registering,” said Schrader, “and by the time they did, it was too little, too late.”

In addition, the committee discussed the idea of hanging a banner in the town reminding residents to be sure they register at least 10 business days prior to the election.

Hours of the actual election were discussed, too. Nippes recommended that the duration of available voting time begin earlier on the Saturday election day, accommodating as many voters as possible.

The proposed new ordinance also allows residents to register as a qualified voter within the town on at least one Saturday prior to elections.

The potential election changes also include changes for potential candidates. The new filing deadline for candidacy is 30 days prior to election for councilmen, with an additional 45 days – for a total of 75 days – required prior to the election for those filing to run for the position of mayor.

The election in April 2008 will welcome one of each such race, as Councilman Norman Amendt of District 3 and Mayor Gary Meredith will be term-restricted from running again for their current positions. Each of the seats has a three-year term.

No residents had filed for candidacy for either position as of Monday. But Planning Commissioner Perry J. Mitchell has publicly announced his plans to run for a council seat, and residents Gordon Wood and Vinnie Esposito are known to be seriously considering their own candidacies for mayor.