In refusing once again to merge its election with the November general election, the Ocean City Mayor and Council members (save Joe Hall who voted for it) seem to be letting ego get in the way of proper decision making. Either that or the council believes the voter apathy that has ruled over the last six years will not continue come next October.
We like the Ocean City election as a much as the candidates themselves. Voting is easy and quick, and there’s a charm to pulling the lever behind the curtain in the old-fashioned voting boxes. It’s small-town politics at its best, featuring candidates and their supporters craving face time and handshakes with voters in the Roland E. Powell Convention Center parking lot.
In the moments after the polls have closed, the candidates, supporters and the media are stationed inside the convention center, waiting for the doors to swing open so the results can be announced. These are anxious moments for all involved and it’s a special and unique situation.
However, times have changed, and we believe Ocean City can retain this small-town election feel even if it gives up its own independent election, saving the town about $10,000 every other year.
This decision is not about money because this amount is small potatoes to Ocean City. This is about voter turnout and getting as many people to the polls as possible. In recent years, a disturbing trend of voter apathy has been seen in the resort.
The turnout dilemma in Ocean City is simple. If the election is absent a controversial referendum or a contested mayoral race, turnout is going to be weak in Ocean City. History has proven this time and time again, and we cannot just wait for referendum questions and contested mayor’s races for turnout to be solid.
While almost all agree the town’s voter rolls are inflated at 6,551, as of October 2010, there’s no question voters have been disinterested for years, as the last election saw the lowest number of voters in 30 years at 1,458. The 2008 and 2006 elections were around the same figures. All of these featured no referenda and unopposed mayoral races.
Currently, there is a motivated voter base in Ocean City, as a result of the council majority’s reckless handling of former City Manager Dennis Dare, who will likely not be replaced until February at the earliest. Perhaps the 2012 election will field a larger turnout, thanks to what is expected to be a significant candidate field and the recall referendum, but the only way to ensure it happens is to make the town’s election date the same as the general election in November.
This is an easy call, and the council is so fixated on the status quo, making it easy for voters and having their day it’s blind to what’s the right call here.
With 2012 being a presidential election, turnout will be high. Rather than adding its races to the ballot, Ocean City is gambling that current events and the associated high emotions will help with the sad voter turnout of late. We wouldn’t take that bet, but we hope we are wrong.