OC Voter Roll Audit Requested After Discrepancies Found

OCEAN CITY – A future discussion will be scheduled to get to the bottom of Ocean City’s constant variability in the number of registered voters.

During a discussion to consolidate Ocean City’s municipal elections with national Election Day this week, Councilman Brent Ashley brought up the constant fluctuation in voters.

“I noticed that the voter figures over the past several election cycles provided by the clerk’s office didn’t match the figures in our comprehensive annual report,” he said.

Ashley reported that the figures in the Certified Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for registered voters differs for most years from the information that City Clerk Kelly Allmond supplied in the Mayor and City Councils agenda packets. For example, in 2006, the CAFR lists 6,783 registered voters but the packet information listed 6,112 voters, a difference of 671 voters.

“Again in CAFR, I notice that in the last several election cycles, the number of registered voters in election years is much higher than non-election years. For example, in election year 2010 there were 6,549 registered voters. But, in off year 2011 there were only 5,166 registered voters. A difference of 1,383 registered voters. If these figures are correct, how were they determined?,” Ashley asked. “Also, what happened to the 1,383 and how was it determined that they were no longer registered voters? If our year-round population has remained relatively stable as presented in the CAFR, how is this possible?”

Ashley had come to find out that the number of voters listed in CAFR included active and non-active voters, and the true number of actual registered voters remains unknown. Ashley asked for the council to request an audit of the voter roll, which hasn’t been done since 2004.

“To see who is really a voter and who is really not. I think this is important before we go even further, we may have people here who aren’t even voters,” he said of those in attendance to voice their opinion on consolidating election days.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres asserted that the voter rolls is not the city’s to audit but is in the hands of the county.

“The law is now when you register to vote with the county board, the local board, and you reside in a municipality, you are automatically registered to vote in that municipality unless you specifically opt out,” Ayres said.

Ayres added that the law does provide for a supplemental roll, which is comprised of people who register with the municipality versus the county because they are only interested in voting on the local government, not the state or federal elections. Currently there are 10 people registered as supplemental voters and in the 2010 elections three voted.

Ashley continued to pursue the topic, asking to request the county to audit the voter roll, and Ayres responded it was possible but complex under state law.

“The law doesn’t favor purging voter rolls so that is why you will get a lot of people who are still on that county voter roll that are not around or don’t reside here,” Ayres said.

Allmond said that the number of voters reported in the CAFR is significantly higher than the actual number of active voters because it a total of active and inactive voters.

Finance Administrator Martha Bennett furthered that the CAFR is released every June 30 so the number of voter participation on Election Day in October differs because it is a different time of the year all together.

“The rationale behind a figure of registered voters in an annual report is to compare that to the number of citizens,” Bennett added. “In many communities across the country, it is an indicator of the participation in your community … so we show 5,000 registered voters with a year-round population of 7,000-8,000, an extremely high percentage of registered voters compared to residents.”

Election Judge Sean Rox, a candidate in the upcoming municipal election, explained the constant fluctuation in the town’s number of registered voters is because Ocean City is a transient town.

“A lot of our citizens come down to retire in Ocean City, they move here and when an election comes decide to register to vote,” he said. “Also, with an older demographic a lot of people pass away. Some people vote, they pass away, new people come in to replace them, they get excited there is an election and they register to vote, and to me that would easily explain 500-600 votes.

Council President Jim Hall offered to invite a member of the county’s Election Board to a Mayor and City Council meeting to sit down and explain the matter.

“We all don’t know,” he said to Ashley. “We can’t answer. Today I have heard five different answers.”

Allmond confirmed on Tuesday that she has scheduled the Board of Elections Supervisor to come to a Mayor and City Council meeting to discuss the matter as early as this month. To check the Ocean City Mayor and City Council agenda, visit www.oceancitymd.gov.