BERLIN — With all candidates running for the Berlin Town Council unopposed following Tuesday’s write-in candidate deadline, the town has cancelled the election and has scheduled a swearing-in ceremony.
Having all three eligible seats only have a single candidate could be interpreted as apathy from residents to get involved with government but the town’s stance is that a combination of trust in direction and prior commitments have resulted in the lack of a need for an election.
“From my point of view there is no apathy. It’s just that being an elected public official in this day and time requires extraordinary commitment, and an extraordinary tolerance for criticism, and I don’t think everybody is well suited to that,” said Mayor Gee Williams. “Certainly there are more people in town who could but when it is their time they’ll step forward.”
Incumbents Dean Burrell and Troy Purnell will both be returning to the council this fall, while newcomer Thom Gulyas has officially cinched the open at-large council seat left vacant by retiring Councilwoman Paula Lynch. While Burrell and Purnell are both established council veterans, it is more unusual that Gulyas’ shot at the open at-large seat has been completely unopposed. Williams chalked that up to Gulyas, a long-time resident and business owner, having a competent reputation.
“I think once they saw who was running they said, ‘hey, he’ll do a good job,’” said the mayor.
The cancellation of this fall’s election is the first time the town’s new policy for write-in candidates was tested. Last October the council passed a charter amendment that would require all write-in candidates to register by a certain deadline at least several weeks from the election but after the traditional deadline for ballot candidates.
The town has identified a few reasons for the change, including the fact that no write-in candidate has ever been successful and that many of the write-in candidates are either ineligible or fictional characters.
“In the past, by tradition, voters could write-in the name of any person on a ballot,” said Mary Bohlen, deputy town administrator. “While no write-in candidate was ever successful, and there were always a number of invalid write-ins, this process needed to be clarified to avoid confusion.”
However, the obvious push behind the policy change was some controversy over the 2012 election.
During that period, Williams ran unopposed for mayor but a surprise 11th hour write-in opponent, Ellen Lang, made a splash on the day of the vote even though she did not realistically threaten the mayor’s re-election. There were allegations by Williams that the Berlin Fire Company (BFC), involved in a dispute over funding with the town at the time, had tried to sneak Lang in under the radar, allegations that Lang and the BFC both denied totally.
Regardless, the Mayor and Council voted to amend the charter to prevent any underground write-in candidate runs in the future. At the time, Williams argued that it wasn’t fair for a candidate to run unchallenged until the day of the election and then have a serious opponent sprung on him or her because of how low voter turnout traditionally is for unopposed races.
Williams did not get into the controversy of the past but did re-iterate that he feels if a prospective candidate is committed enough to help run the town then he or she should be willing to commit as a write-in prior to the election.
Canceling the election will save the town about $800. Burrell, Purnell and Gulyas will all be sworn into their seats on Oct. 27.