Committee Finds No Misconduct In Fenwick Election

FENWICK ISLAND – After reviewing a complaint from four candidates, the Fenwick Island Board of Elections last week found no unlawful actions regarding pre-election activity in town.

Last Friday, the town’s board of elections held a special meeting to consider the legality of certain pre-election activities in Fenwick Island after receiving a written complaint from candidates Janice Bortner, Jacque Napolitano, Natalie Magdeburger and Paul Breger.

The two-page document – filed with the town on July 23 – alleges ballot security practices, as well as rule changes and processing errors for absentee ballot request forms, contradict provisions of the state code regarding municipal elections. The candidates also questioned the appropriateness of a letter sent by town staff in the voter’s information packet regarding building heights, outdoor bars, outdoor speakers and shuttles.

“We should all agree that what we want is a fair and impartial election,” Magdeburger said last week, “but not one where campaign literature is posted on the town website.”

Last week, board members – represented by Town Solicitor Mary Schrider-Fox – were tasked with determining if the complaints regarding pre-election activity violated sections of the Delaware code pertaining to municipal elections.

“With each complaint, you need to make a determination as to whether or not the activity or action complained of violates something in those two subchapters,” Schrider-Fox said.

After going through the list of complaints last Friday, the three-member board voted unanimously on motions that the alleged pre-election activities were legal.

Magdeburger, however, asked the board to reconsider the candidates’ complaint regarding the town-issued memorandum on building heights, shuttles, and outdoor bars and speakers. She argued the town violated the state’s electioneering laws by issuing a “politically-motivated” letter.

“I think there needs to be an investigation as to whether or not that was electioneering by a municipality that is charged with running a fair and impartial election,” she said.

Schrider-Fox acknowledged the state statute Magdeburger referenced, but noted it only applied to the polling place.

“You’re not in a polling place yet …,” she told board members. “This is not the day of the election. This is not the day the polls are open. So if there’s some activity that might sound, smell, feel like electioneering ahead of time, weeks or months in advance, that statute kicks in on the day of the election.”

While she did not agree with the town’s actions, Elections Inspector Audrey Serio said it wasn’t unlawful.

“In my opinion I don’t think it was a good decision, but I don’t think it was unlawful …,” she said. “It is our job to decide if either of these items was an unlawful action.”

Magdeburger said she was disappointed with the outcome but the candidates would not appeal the decision. She added the town has removed the letter from its website.

“The next stage would require further investigation, a hearing and a possible determination of criminal intent,” she said. “While it would be of interest to learn who participated in the drafting of the political issues memorandum and who authorized it to be sent, at taxpayer’s expense, in the voter’s information packet, none of us would like to see our town’s employees be exposed to further investigation at a State level. Our intent in filing the complaint with the Fenwick Island Board of Elections was to address what we, and other residents, felt was the inappropriateness of town employees, particularly those who register voters and handle absentee ballots, from interjecting themselves personally into town politics … We hope by highlighting this issue, town employees will remain neutral, as they should be, throughout the rest of the election proceedings. All we want is a fair and impartial election.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.