Fenwick to discuss voter qualifications at special meeting Dec. 8

Date Published: 
Dec. 6, 2016

Who is qualified to vote in Fenwick Island elections? The discussion continues this week, as the Fenwick Island Town Council has scheduled a special meeting for Thursday, Dec. 8, at 2 p.m. to discuss a proposed amendment to the town charter that would expand voter and candidate qualifications.

They’ll once again have legal guidance from Town Solicitor Mary Schrider-Fox.

In September, after two election cycles that included confusion over voter and candidate qualifications, the town council instructed the Charter & Ordinance Committee to consider changes, such as allowing spouses of trustees to vote and allowing any LLC to put forward one candidate for election, such as an owner or stockholder.

Currently, the draft of the changes does not allow the non-resident spouses of regular deed-holders to vote. C&O Chairperson Bill Weistling said the goal of the draft is to return the pre-2008 charter, which allowed non-resident trustee spouses to vote but was silent about deed-holder spouses.

The council must consider the effects of such changes. For example, some deeds have eight trustees or property owners listed. Each owner gets a vote already, so adding spouses could add many voters to the rolls.

After the 2008 charter changes, Fenwick didn’t even host a contested election until 2015, so people didn’t notice new rules or unintended consequences.

But last year, people realized — many with surprise — that trustee spouses could no longer vote and that LLCs could not put forward candidates for election.

“From a legal standpoint, what you’ve got isn’t really that complicated,” Schrider-Fox previously said. “I know that’s not the way it feels.”

Currently, voters must be either a bona fide resident; or a human, non-resident property owner; or an artificial entity, such as a trust, corporation or other LLC.

Candidates must be “a natural person who is a citizen of the United States [and] … either a bona fide resident of the Town or a property owner in the Town,” but not an LLC representative.

Because this beach town has so many types of ownership, Fenwick will never have a perfectly simple registration process, Schrider-Fox had previously said.

A charter change requires a public hearing, multiple town council readings, a local legislative sponsor and a majority vote of approval by the Delaware state legislature.

The town council may consider the amendment’s first reading at the regular meeting on Friday, Dec. 9, at 3:30 p.m.