Officials Remain Reluctant To Move Election

OCEAN CITY – There will likely be a renewed debate about moving Ocean City’s municipal election to the traditional General Election day on the first Tuesday in November, but it appears the outcome might be the same.

At the close of the regular Ocean City Mayor and Council meeting on Monday, the issue was raised about adding questions to the October municipal election ballot to gauge public opinion on certain pertinent issues. Among the ideas thrown out was adding a question to the ballot asking the voters if they think the town’s municipal election should be moved to the first Tuesday in November to coincide with the national election.

The idea is certainly not a new one as the debate has surfaced off and on over the years, but the town’s elected officials have always decided to keep the municipal election a uniquely Ocean City event. Most recently, the issue was debated during budget deliberations when town officials explored the possibility of saving the nearly $18,000 it takes to host the elections every two years.

“We just talked about this at length at budget time, and I don’t know that there is much interest in doing that,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. “The majority of the council felt that having our own election on a separate day was part of our identity.”

Ocean City Council elections occur every two years in a staggered rotation with four seats usually coming up in one cycle and three seats coming up in the next. However, the mayor’s position comes up for election every two years.

Despite sagging voter turnout numbers and associated costs, the majority of Ocean City’s elected officials believe the town should continue the tradition of holding its municipal elections apart from the General Election in November. They are not alone in that belief. Of the 155 municipalities in Maryland, all but one has its own unique election day.

For the most part, town officials believe the municipal elections should follow tradition and not be lumped in with national, state and other local elections.

“That’s the beauty and purity of our election,” said Councilwoman Mary Knight. “I think we’d lose that if we moved our election to that first Tuesday in November.”

One of the arguments for moving the town’s election to the General Election day is the hope of improving voter turnout. Just 23.5 percent of the town’s roughly 6,470 voters turned out in 2008, down from a previous low of 24 percent in 2006. The conventional thinking is the voters are less likely to turn out for municipal election just weeks before the General Election. Ocean City’s election this year is set for Oct. 19, while the General Election falls on Nov. 2.

However, Knight said moving the town’s election to coincide with the General Election could bury the Ocean City candidates in a vast field of national, state and local candidates.

“One of the unique things about our election is that it is non-partisan,” she said. “When the voters get behind that curtain, they don’t see a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ behind the candidates’ name. I think that gets muddied if you lump our election in with everything else.”

Reducing the cost and improving efficiency is another common argument for moving the town’s election day. It costs the town roughly $17,860 to host its election every two years with antiquated lever-pull voting machines, four of which date back to the 1950s. The town’s elected officials debated the move again this year during budget deliberations.

“It was looked at during budget time and we decided against it just a few short weeks ago,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic. “I don’t know that anybody’s opinion has changed, but if somebody wants to discuss putting it on the ballot to let the voters decide, we can certainly do that.”