Ocean City Clears Up Absentee Voting Issues

OCEAN CITY – The Mayor and City Council took some necessary action this week regarding elections in November involving absentee ballots, the time polls close and a referendum to be placed on the ballot.

A couple of weeks ago, the Mayor and City Council adopted the state’s “No Excuse” policy when it comes to applying for an absentee ballot.

Council members Mary Knight and Doug Cymek voted against the motion due to concern over how the change would affect City Hall on Election Day and if it will subject City Hall to becoming a second place,

Concerns were also expressed over whether City Clerk Kelly Allmond and staff could handle the added responsibility since Allmond is already obligated to be attendance at the convention center’s polls.

This week City Solicitor Guy Ayres presented an amended ordinance that removed the language for having to provide a reason, or excuse, for filing an absentee ballot. The ordinance also provided that absentee ballots can be filed up until the close of polls at City Hall on election day.

“I still want to express concern that it is the uncertainty of the situation whether it is going to work or not,” Cymek said. “I don’t see why cutting it off Monday night, the day before, at the close of business is putting anybody at a disadvantage.”

When the council adopted the “No Excuse” policy, Cymek offered the compromise of cutting off the absentee ballot process at City Hall at 5 p.m. the day before elections to eliminate the concern of having the building become a second polling place on Election Day.

Councilman Joe Hall pointed out that a separate policy, Emergency Absentee Ballot, is in place for voters who become disabled, ill, have an accident, or a death in the immediate family.

“That is one of the main reasons we are open that day, we want people to come to us and get that certification [Emergency Absentee Ballot],” Allmond said. “What we are concerned about is someone casually coming into vote on that day because they don’t want to go to the polls at the convention center … the last thing we want to do is deny votes but we do not want to establish City Hall as a polling place.”

Local Board of Elections Chair Mary Adeline Bradford was in attendance to discuss the council members’ concerns but expressed worries of her own.

“Ocean City will now be running concurrent elections with Snow Hill and if different sets of rules are established it could become confusing for the voter,” she said. “That to me and to the board of Ocean City is an utmost concern. The board has a history of not denying the right to vote to anybody. We understand that undeniable right and we will not deny, but we have certain rules and regulations that we have to follow, and if the public perception is that there is one set of rules in Ocean City and a second set of rules in the county that makes for a very difficult situation.”

Cymek respected Bradford’s fears but with support of his colleagues he placed a motion on the table to stop the absentee ballot process at 5 p.m. the day before elections.

“I really don’t think we should be opening City Hall Tuesday of the election for voting,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “I think that is confusing and I think it is creating a situation that will make it very difficult for everybody.”

In the end, the council voted 5-1, Councilman Brent Ashley opposed and Councilwoman Margaret Pillas absent, to approve the motion.

“The board just recommends that there be some education for the voters of the process,” Bradford said.

Next, the council voted unanimously to extend poll hours to 8 p.m. to remain consistent with National Election Day hours.

The action was necessary due to the recent vote the council made to change Ocean City’s Election Day to the national Election Day in attempt to increase voter turnout.

Last but not least the council voted to authorize that the proposed charter amendment allowing city employees to collectively bargain be placed on the election ballot in November.

Ocean City’s general employees earned the right to have the question placed on ballot after a petition effort resulted in 2,362 signatures, with 783 signatures deemed invalid for a variety of reasons and 1,579 signatures left to be legitimate.

The code of Maryland requires the number of signatures needed for a charter amendment referendum is 20 percent of the number of registered voters on the voter roll at the time the petition is submitted.

There were 6,039 registered voters on the roll at the time the petition was submitted and 20 percent of that number is 1,208. Therefore, the petition has far exceeded the required number of signatures.