By Tony E. Windsor

Municipal elections are scheduled for the town of Laurel and residents are encouraged to be aware of the voter and candidate guidelines. The election is scheduled for Thursday, March 25, from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Laurel Fire Hall.

During the Monday, Dec. 21, meeting of Laurel Mayor and Council, Town Manager Jamie Smith said this year’s elections will be held under strict adherence to state COVID-19 health guidelines. “The restrictions are limited to social distancing and wearing face masks,” she said. “Fortunately, we have access to the Laurel Fire Department’s banquet hall, so social distancing should not be a problem.”

Smith said voters are also able to utilize absentee ballots if they are not comfortable voting in public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “All anyone needs to do is call me at town hall and I will make sure they receive an absentee ballot,” she said. Smith said the ballots will be available after Feb. 25.

This year’s ballot includes races seats for Mayor, and Ward 2, Ward 3 and Ward 3 At-Large council seats. Currently the seats are held by John Shwed (Mayor), Robin Fisher-Cornish (Ward 2), Jonathon Kellam (Ward 3) and Jeff Hill (Ward 3- At-Large).

It is necessary for voters to register for the municipal election. This election is separate from registration for federal or state elections. Voter registration deadline is March 18. Deadline for candidate filing is Feb 25.

Recently, Smith announced to Mayor and Council that efforts are underway to simplify the voting process in Laurel. While it will not impact the upcoming March municipal elections, changes are being investigated to allow municipal voting to be tied to federal voter registration.

Smith told Mayor and Council during a November meeting that by allowing Laurel’s voter registration to be handled by the Delaware Department of Elections, citizens would need only register with one agency and be verified for municipal, state and federal elections.

In the past municipalities like Seaford and Laurel who have maintained their own voter registration have come under fire for what some perceive as a form of voter suppression due to the confusion that the practice creates. Voters oftentimes think that because they have registered to vote in the state and federal elections, they are automatically able to vote in the municipal elections and fail to register in time.

She said the process will require a town charter amendment which will be handled through the state legislature. It will also be necessary to notify the Department of Elections so that the town can receive a list of registered voters who reside in the corporate limits of Laurel.

Smith said the town will need to comb through the list and make sure that any town citizens who have registered for the national elections will be included in the state registration roster and able to vote in all elections moving forward.

She did point out that the voter registration change will not go into effect in time for the upcoming Laurel municipal elections scheduled for March. For the March 25 election, citizens will need to ensure they have registered with the town prior to the March 18 voter registration deadline.