RISING SUN — Perryville and Port Deposit are not the only Cecil County towns tweaking election processes to improve participation, but save money when the ballot is unchallenged.
Port Deposit has already acted on legislation it passed in 2017 and canceled the May 2019 election due to lack of challengers. Only Mayor Wayne Tome and Councilman Kevin Brown were on the ballot and were declared winners. Perryville officials are weighing any future changes to its election procedures on the outcome of a Tuesday night vote to eliminate the write in ballot.
Last week Rising Sun heard some suggestions from a resident — and former town commissioner — who is trying to keep the town from canceling uncontested elections.
Stephen Naughton came before the board at an earlier town meeting to plead the case saying even when there is no competition he wants his right to vote preserved.
“So rather than be negative I wanted to come back with a positive idea and maybe increase voter turnout,” Naughton said.
Less than 2% of voters participated in the Oct. 21 election that returned Pauline Braun and Augie Pierson to their seats.
Naughton told the board his appearance at the town meeting the following day caught the attention of Del. Kevin Hornberger who referred him to Jim Peck with the Maryland Municipal League. It was in talking with Peck that Naughton developed several options for Rising Sun to consider.
“Rockville has gone to a system where they vote by mail,” Naughton said. According to Naughton, Rockville witnessed a surge with an additional 3,000 voters participating.
“We could see more people interested in running for office. Wouldn’t that be a neat thing?” Naughton said.
He also suggested that Rising Sun could hold its town election in concert with state or federal elections on the same ballot as a gubernatorial or congressional race.
Commissioner Dave Warnick agreed that people have the right to be heard at the ballot box.
“But there’s also the balance of that expense,” Warnick said, pointing to the electron voting booths being the most expensive element along with paying the three election board judges to work the 12 hour day. I think in contested elections there’s probably a good case ...when we have 20 to 30 votes to use a paper ballot.”
Warnick said having Rising Sun move its election to match with the state or federal races would require a charter change, but also a special election district for town residents.
“And that can be quite costly,” Warnick said.
Peck, however, said more than a dozen of Maryland’s 157 municipalities do piggyback their elections.
“But I have never heard a reason being that the state or county would have to create a special election district,” Peck said Tuesday. It would not be without its challenges.
“You would have to make sure people who do not live in town do not vote in the town election,” he said.
In an informal survey of the MML members Peck said he found only a handful no longer offer write-in balloting. He added, the high court sides with the no-write in side.
“There was a US Supreme Court case in Hawaii and the court said specifically you do not need to supply write-in votes,” Peck said of the 1992 ruling. “It’s not a constitutional right.”