Council Advances Proposed Charter Changes On Elections

OCEAN CITY — The Mayor and Council this week held a series of public hearings on proposed charter amendments, some of which had to do with elections and voting.

On Monday’s regular meeting agenda, there were five public hearings scheduled for proposed amendments to the town charter. Essentially, the hearings were mere formalities as no one from the public commented on any of them. Instead, the hearings were opened, and then closed, before the Mayor and Council voted to move them forward with the resolution process.

A couple of the charter amendments were related to the town’s election process, voter registration and polling. For example, the first acknowledges the Worcester County Board of Elections maintains the list of qualified registered voters for every town election. The City Clerk has not maintained the town voter rolls for decades and there are currently no names on the supplemental voter list.

The proposed amendment reads, “the city clerk no longer registers municipal voters. Municipal voters register in accordance with state law and the town of Ocean City voter roll is maintained by the Worcester County Board of Elections and provided to the town for each election.”

The second public hearing on a proposed charter amendment dealt with the closing time at the polls for municipal elections. Ocean City municipal elections are held every two years at the convention center in conjunction with the state and federal elections. However, the municipal elections are held in a different area then the state and federal elections.

The proposed charter amendment with change the municipal election poll closing time from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., in order to coincide with the general election poll closing time, the proposed amendment reads. Councilman Mark Paddack took the opportunity to raise questions about early voting in Ocean City.

In a typical year, early voting in Worcester County is held at the Gull Creek assisted living facility in Berlin. In 2020, however, because of COVID restrictions on social distancing and gathering sizes, the Ocean City convention center was chosen as the polling site for early voting.

Many voiced concern because they could vote early at the convention center for the state and national elections, but there was no provision for voting early in the municipal election. Instead, those who chose to vote early in the state and federal elections still had to return to the convention center on election day in November to vote in the municipal election.

“I received quite a few complaints about no early voting for the municipal election,” said Paddack. “Our voters had to show up on election day even if they voted early in the state and national election. I’d like consideration for a polling place for our early voting.”

City Clerk Diana Chavis pointed out there is no provision for early voting in the Ocean City elections, but there are other alternatives including absentee ballots. She also explained early voting at the convention center was likely a temporary situation because of the pandemic.

“I’ll bring it up to the board,” she said. “We’ve never had early voting at the convention center, but that was done this year because of the space needed because of COVID. I assume it will probably go back to Gull Creek.”

The other proposed charter amendments were largely housekeeping measures, including adjusting the language in the purchasing and contracts section, formally changing the City Clerk’s title and elimination language in the code regarding the observation of the sabbath.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.