Record-low turnout for Dagsboro Town Council election
There will be no changes to the three Dagsboro Town Council seats that were up for grabs last Saturday, Dec. 7, in the municipal election held at the Dagsboro Volunteer Fire Company’s fire hall.
Incumbent council members Theresa Ulrich, Patrick Miller and Mayor Brian Baull each garnered enough votes to maintain their seats following a record-low turnout of just 45 voters amongst the roughly 700 registered voters in the town. Jim Thompson was the lone candidate challenging the multi-term council members seeking re-election.
Town Administrator Cynthia Brought said she wasn’t sure what to think about the low voter turnout.
“I’m not sure what attributed to the decline in voters,” Brought admitted. “Possibly, people are content with their current town council and the way they handle the business of the Town, and therefore felt no urgency in getting out to vote with only one challenge for the three open seats.
“We were hoping to have a larger turnout,” she added. “The election is well-published, and has always been held the first Saturday in December. Maybe it’s just a busy time of year for residents, and they don’t make it a priority.”
Brought said she would add that, while this was only her second election since joining Dagsboro as its town administrator, voter turnout generally “tends to be a very low percentage of residents that come out to vote for the open town council seats. This appears to be the first time the turnout was so low.”
Ulrich picked up the most votes amongst the incumbents, with 42, while Miller had 41 and Baull drew 39 nods. Thompson garnered six votes.
“I thought getting a mere 81 people out to vote in 2018 was pathetic at best,” Thompson said afterwards. “That only 45 voters turned out this year is almost incomprehensible. If 94 percent of the voters don’t even bother to vote for town council, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Is it even worth having a Town at all? Maybe it would make sense to dissolve the Town’s charter entirely, and let it return to an unincorporated area within Sussex County like many others.’ One thing for sure, our property taxes would go way down. Something to think about.”
He continued, “If the residents of Dagsboro don’t care enough to show up once a year to vote and/or once a month for town council meetings, then I fear Dagsboro will continue to devolve, which would be a failure of epic proportions, especially since there are so many opportunities to make improvements.
“I will not run again for town council because: (a) losing twice is enough for me, and (b) I’m not getting any younger. I will, however, work tirelessly to help another candidate — or candidates — if they want to try to unseat any of the current town council members in next year’s election.”
Thompson’s other time running for council came in 2018, when he had opposed two other incumbents on the Dagsboro Town Council — Norwood Truitt and William Chandler III.
Ulrich, who is in her sixth year on the council, said she was surprised by the low voter turnout, but felt like it’s a very busy time of year for people.
“I was very surprised,” she said. “I understand that it’s the holiday season, and everyone is busy, but I would hope that the residents would be more interested in knowing what’s going on within their town. I would like to thank those who did come out to vote, and to the volunteers on the Board of Elections, who took time out of their busy schedules to oversee the voting process. It takes great time and effort to have an election, and to have such a low turnout is disheartening.
“I would like to encourage everyone to be more involved in our town, maybe sit in on a town council meeting, stop by town hall, or check the Town’s website to see if anything of importance is coming up.”
Like Ulrich, Baull is in his sixth year on town council, while three of those years have been served as the town’s mayor. Like his colleagues, he was surprised by the low turnout, but felt it could be attributed to voters being satisfied with the work the current council is doing.
“I was a bit surprised, yes, because that number was about half of the voters who typically turn out when we do hold town elections — usually that number is about 80-85 voters, around 10 percent of our registered voters,” Baull said. “I also think it speaks to the belief that the voters are happy with the makeup of the current council and didn’t feel a change was warranted.”
He added that, “Every member of the council is committed to one task — representing the citizens of the Town of Dagsboro the best way we can. Any time someone has a question, comment or suggestion — we want them to know they can come in to a council meeting or contact us directly. We are all dedicated to making Dagsboro the best town it can be — a place people are proud to call home.”
Miller, who joined the council in 2015, said he wasn’t necessarily surprised by the lack of voter turnout, but was certainly “disappointed.”
“I’m not sure how to get our residents more involved in our town,” he admitted. “Then again, I could look at it that [they approve of] our current council, and don’t feel the need for change. I’d like to thank the 45 residents who took the time out of their Saturday to cast their vote. We hope to move forward bringing new businesses and new residents to our town.”
The wins by Ulrich, Baull and Miller mean they will each serve another two-year term, which will run through 2021.
The next Dagsboro Town Council meeting will be on Monday, Dec. 16, at 6 p.m., at the Bethel Center, located at 28307 Clayton Street. The agenda for the meeting had yet to be posted as of Coastal Point press time this week.
By Jason Feather