MILLSBORO — State statute and publicity of Town of Millsboro municipal elections are under the microscope following an exceptionally low voter turnout for the 2021 election.
Thirty-nine people cast votes Saturday, June 12, in deciding one contested council race, where incumbent councilman Bradley Cordrey outpolled District 1 challenger Kimberley Kaan, 23-16. Council incumbent James Kells, who represents District 3, was unopposed in his re-election bid.
“I personally didn’t like the turnout. I thought it was pretty sad when you have 7,000 people and you get … 39 votes,” said Councilman John Thoroughgood during the Millsboro Town Council meeting July 6.
While council and town administration concur voting hours — 1 to 7 p.m. — specifically spelled out in the town charter should not change, there is a request that the town should consider doing more in advance to make residents aware, beyond what it follows in town charter/state statute.
“I was really sad, and I was really disappointed when 39 people cared enough about Millsboro to come out and vote on June 12. Thirty-nine. I think it is incumbent on Millsboro to reach out,” said Millsboro resident Mary Anderson. “We did meet the statute. We met the charter requirements. But face it, we need to do more, if you really believe that the heart and soul of Millsboro are the people that live in it.”
“I take it very seriously not to under- or over-advertise because of the public perception of favoritism,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson. “So, the concern is — and I’ve gone to conferences where they have talked about this — that if the town manager and staff, you advertise more one year than another sometimes it’s viewed as favoring a challenger. So, you have to be objective and neutral.”
“Right now, we have a calendar,” said Millsboro Assistant Town Manager Jamie Burk.
“Which is based on a state statute in your charter,” said Millsboro town solicitor Mary Schrider-Fox.
Mr. Hudson said any deviation from present practice would have to come from the council.
“If council said they wanted to do more of advertising, then I have no objection to that. If I follow the statute by the book it’s hard for the public to say, ‘Well, you just wanted the challenger to win.’ And in my role, I have to be objective. That is the thinking behind the reason why we just follow the statute,” Mr. Hudson said.
Ms. Kaan, who offered “hearty congratulations” to Mr. Cordrey on his re-election, said she was at first excited about the outcome, thinking the number of people that came out and voted were from District 1.
“Then I found out that it was a town-wide election, and 39 votes in a town-wide election in the days of the internet is a real sad showing,” Ms. Kaan said. “I know the town met the statutes for requirement for how it was supposed to be advertised. It would be nice if it was advertised more so that the public can participate.”
Ms. Anderson offered a public awareness comparison between the Millsboro Farmers’ Market and the recent election.
“Mayor (Michelle) Truitt, believe me, I love the farmers’ market. You see me there all the time,” said Ms. Anderson. “But I think election is more important than the farmers’ market, and you see 100% more advertising for that (market).”
Utilizing the town’s marquee and other public information venues were suggested as information avenues to perhaps better alert residents and potential candidates.
“I was not implying that you (Mr. Hudson) should advertise, so that you are showing favoritism,” Ms. Anderson said. “I agree with you (Mr. Hudson), you don’t want to show favoritism.”
“And I know you weren’t implying that,” said Mr. Hudson. “I just wanted you to know what my thinking was. If council says, ‘Do more to exceed the state requirement through resolution,’ great, we’ll do that.”
“The other thing is, obviously it is incumbent on the candidate to do some advertising in the election as well, as far as to get out and vote. That is not the town’s responsibility,” Mr. Hudson said.
Initial discussion on possibly changing the time for voting was shelved.
“I think we need to keep it 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. for the working man,” said Mr. Thoroughgood.
Ms. Schrider-Fox reminded the council that any plan to change voting hours would require a town charter change, through Delaware’s General Assembly.
Ms. Schrider-Fox suggested the town create an actual policy and pass a resolution stating “these are the things that we’re going to do each year — and you do it. It’s not discretionary at this point.”
Some responsibility, Mr. Thoroughgood says, should rest on residents.
“If you are really interested about the town, and interested about how the town operates, you should take initiative to vote,” Mr. Thoroughgood said. “It happens every year — same time.”
Staff writer Glenn Rolfe can be reached at email@example.com.