OCEAN CITY – The voice behind the Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice has taken on a familiar battle in Ocean City, threatening legal action against the Mayor and City Council if action is not taken to clean up the town’s registered voter roll.
On Monday, Tony Christ, spokesperson for Ocean City Taxpayers for Social Justice (OCTSJ), submitted a letter to Ocean City Council President Lloyd Martin and the Worcester County Board of Elections announcing the group has been in touch with the board over what it believes to be peculiarities in the Voter Registration Roll for the Town of Ocean City.
“Our allegations stem from our recent involvement with the parking referendum. In that regard the County Board of Elections has emailed us a form to be used in challenging individual voters on a one-by-one basis. We will shortly begin these challenges,” Christ submitted. “However, we firmly believe it is the duty of the Town of Ocean City as well as the County Election Board to periodically check the Ocean City Voter Registration Roll and ensure that it is compliant with relevant federal, state and local law.”
The OCTSJ is basing an appeal on a section of the Ocean City Charter titled, Appeal from Action of Board in the Municipal Charter of the Town of Ocean City, which states, “if any person has not voted in two consecutive general elections, it shall be the duty of the Board of Supervisors of Elections to strike his or her name from the list of eligible voter.”
The charter furthers, “if any person shall feel aggrieved by the action of the board of supervisors of elections in refusing to register or in striking off the name of any person or by any other action, such person may appeal to the Council. Any decision or action of the Council upon such appeals may be appealed to the Circuit Court for the county within thirty days of the decision or action of the council.”
In his letter, Chris wrote, “This letter results from the Board of Elections’ failure to purge the voter rolls of the Town of Ocean City of all males and females who have been registered for the last two city elections but have not voted. We believe that the voter lists of the last two elections are readily available to the Board of Elections and the Town of Ocean City voter roll could be purged of names according to the Charter in two to three hours.”
Christ concluded in his letter, “OCTSJ respectfully requested the council take prompt action in that the Board of Elections has been delinquent in its responsibility regarding the Ocean City voter roll and believe it is the duty of the Council to ensure the required corrections as described above are enacted promptly. Christ expects the Council to take action within 20 days following receipt of the letter to avoid further legal action in the courts. We are uncertain how long this lack of oversight has gone on. However, it is clear that the trust of the people has been severely violated by the Elections Board with cause and in a court of law the damage could be shown to be extensive. We look forward to your prompt response to correct the erroneous voter rolls for the Town of Ocean City as required by law.”
OCTSJ led a petition effort to overturn the town’s decision made in early June to implement new areas of paid parking to increase revenue and help close a budget gap.
The petition for an ordinance referendum met its deadline on July 31. The petition had to gather 40 percent of the number of voters who voted in the last election in last November, or 1,226 signatures.
On Tuesday, July 30, the Clerk’s Office received a 1,770-signature petition for referendum of Ordinance 2013-10. The Board of Elections convened Wednesday, Aug. 21, and Thursday, Aug. 22, to review the petition signatures.
According to Board of Elections Chair Mary Adeline Bradford, the Board found 1,771 signatures submitted. There were 86 signatures of non-registered voters, five rejected signatures and 32 duplicate signatures. The petition was successful with 1,648 valid signatures and in the weeks following the Mayor and City Council voted to repeal the ordinance declaring paid parking in several areas in Ocean City.
According to Christ, throughout the parking petition effort, OCTSJ found a handful of deceased Ocean City residents whose names remain on the voter roll, in addition to several part-time residents who are registered to vote in another state.
Recently, a few members of OCTSJ have been collecting signatures on a trial basis for two petitions for referendum to be placed on the 2014 ballot regarding lowering the limit on the debt of Ocean City and tax reductions.
“I think everyone should want an honest voter roll,” Christ said on Tuesday morning. “We want to work with the Board to inform them as we go door-to-door but they have not expressed much interest in it.”
As of Tuesday morning, City Solicitor Guy Ayres had not seen a copy of the letter although he had been in communication with Christ over the matter.
“It is up to the county. It is not in our [Ocean City] hands at all,” he said.
According to Ayres, as a result of the Motor Voter Act passed in 1993 a Universal Voter Registration was enacted by the federal government. In turn, the State of Maryland passed a law that if an individual who lives in a municipality is registered to vote or registers to vote in a county, state or federal election then that individual automatically becomes registered to vote in the municipality they live in unless they specifically opt out.
“So since that time the county has essentially maintained the voter rolls for the city,” he said.
Ayres furthered there are individuals who are not registered to vote in the county, state or federal elections but have the option to register to vote in the Ocean City municipal election by becoming part of the supplemental voter list.
“If he wants Ocean City to purge the supplemental voter list that’s fine, except to my knowledge there are only about three people on the list, so I consider Tony’s threat being pretty idle,” he said. “If he still insists he is entitled to a hearing before the Mayor and City Council and they will consider the voting status of those three people. It is my understanding that they all voted, so there is nothing that can be done for Tony anyway.”