Would Election Change Help Turnout?

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Ocean City officials want to keep their election process the way it is and the possibility of saving about $17,000 every two years is not enough to change their minds.

An interesting proposal was brought to the Mayor and Council this week by City Clerk Carol Jacobs that would have moved the town’s elections from the third Tuesday of even numbered years to the same day as the national and state elections in November. The idea is it would save money and would keep voters from going to the polls twice in a matter of weeks.

In her conclusion to the council, Jacobs wrote, “Citizens have come to expect fair, open and accurate elections. Moving our election date to coincide with the county/national offers municipal voters access to state issued voting systems at a savings of taxpayer dollars. No service would be lost and voters would have less confusion with only one date to remember for voter registration deadlines, voting or absentee ballot application requests.”

Aside from Councilman Joe Hall, who liked the savings and technological advancements over the status quo, the City Council rejected the proposal. Six of the seven council members wanted to keep their election the way it’s been for years. Officials said they liked the personal nature of their current election and the belief partisan issues do not cloud the municipal vote.

Ocean City conducts its election in an archaic fashion, but that’s what makes it enjoyable. Four of the seven voting machines used date back to the 1950s and two were built in the 1970s. These are the machines that you actually pull the lever to cast your vote after a curtain closes behind you.

Despite the old-fashioned voting ways, there is a personal feel to it, and there’s something special about standing in the room and listening to the voting machine tallies being read only a few feet from the candidates and their families. It’s an emotional and tense experience for these officials, and it’s unique to be able to watch it all unfold an hour or so after voting ends.

We think the council is right to want to preserve this bit of tradition. However, there are two key issues here – the cost savings, which should not be ignored in a day when governments are looking at every expenditure with the slant eye, and voter turnout, which has been pathetic in recent years.

Ocean City has long taken pride in having an active citizenry that takes an interest in politics. That’s not been the case in recent years if you gauge the last two elections when only 23.5 percent and 24.2 percent of the electorate bothered to vote, respectively. Prior to that, the 20-year average, or 15 elections, was 50 percent.

We think Ocean City should revisit this decision after this October’s election if voter turnout remains dismal, confirming apathy remains among the electorate. If people continue to show a lack of interest in the municipal election, it may be time to end this individual election and link up with the state and national day. It should be explored again a year from now.

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