By Tony E. Windsor

During the Jan. 19 meeting of Laurel Mayor and Council, Mayor John Shwed said he has again decided to run for mayor, a seat he has held since 2003. In making the announcement, Shwed said he made his decision to file to retain his seat out of his “love for this community.” Shwed said he came to Laurel in 1966. “In that time I have worked in a number of capacities to help make a great little community where I raised a family, even better for future generations. I want to continue as mayor because there are things that I want to see happen that are moving a little slow.”

Shwed’s announcement came as Laurel leaders are moving forward on an amendment to the town’s Charter that they hope will make voting in municipal elections less confusing. During the Tuesday, Jan. 19 meeting of the Mayor and Council, the council voted unanimously to accept a change to the Charter that will combine the municipal election voter registration with that of the state and federal elections.

Town Manager Jamie Smith introduced the proposal during a meeting in November. She told the Mayor and Council 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 would require a town charter amendment which must be approved by 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. She said it is important that residents recognize that for the upcoming March 25 municipal election, citizens will need to ensure they have registered with the town prior to the March 18 voter registration deadline.

In addition, the town has also elected to amend the Charter to require that anyone filing to run as Mayor and Council must be current on all town capitation and property taxes. This was also adopted by the Mayor and Council during the Jan. 19 meeting.

Smith said she will forward paperwork to State Rep. Tim Dukes so that he and Sen. Bryant Richardson can have the Charter changes introduced and approved by the state legislature. It is estimated that the Charter changes will first impact the municipal elections of 2023.

Smith also reminded Mayor and Council that municipal elections are scheduled for Thursday, March 25, from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Laurel Fire Hall. She 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 election includes seats for Mayor, Ward 2, Ward 3 and Ward 3 At-Large council seats. Currently the seats are held by Shwed (Mayor), Robin Fisher-Cornish (Ward 2), Jonathon Kellam (Ward 3) and Jeff Hill (Ward 3- At-Large).