By Tony E. Windsor

The town of Laurel is taking steps to join a neighboring community in efforts to make municipal elections a little less confusing for voters. Both Laurel and Seaford municipalities have traditionally maintained voter registration separate from the state’s Department of Elections. This has resulted in citizens having to register each time a municipal election is held; rather than combining voter registration with state and federal voter registration.

Laurel Town Manager Jamie 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.

Smith said she feels this will be beneficial for Laurel citizens. “Not only will they only have to register once, but this will help reduce the confusion,” she said. “It seems no matter how much we advertise the need for voters to register separately for municipal elections, some people unfortunately do not realize and miss their opportunity to vote. I believe this will be fair for our citizens and make voting a lot simpler.”

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 that election, citizens will need to ensure they have registered with the town prior to the elections.

The town is also looking at implementing a charter amendment that will address another election issue that city of Seaford deals with in its charter. Smith said in looking at Seaford’s charter in preparing for development of Laurel’s charter amendment, she noticed that Seaford requires anyone running for municipal office to have their city taxes current a year prior to filing for candidacy.

Council members agreed that this is something that should also be addressed as a charter amendment for the municipal election process. Council President Chris Calio said he feels this would simply be an extension of already existing Laurel requirements that make it necessary for taxes to be up to date when applying for things such as a business permit.

Councilwoman Cheryl Martin agreed, saying she feels that anyone who may be seeking to serve the town in an elected capacity should ensure all of their town business is “above board.”

Smith said the charter amendment would need to be reviewed by the town’s attorney prior to being sent to the legislator to ensure the amendment is worded to cover any potential issues that could arise from this charter change. The council voted unanimously to seek a charter amendment to address current tax situations of anyone seeking to register for office in the town. Likewise, she said this charter amendment will not be effective in time for the March municipal elections.