(Oct. 31, 2014) Ocean City voters will go to the polls Tuesday to say hello to at least three new faces on the City Council – and to say goodbye to Ocean City’s antiquated mechanical voting machines.
Polls for the city election will open at 7 a.m. at the Ocean City Convention Center on Nov. 4, and run until 8 p.m.
Again this year, officials are reminding citizens that the city’s elections are held simultaneously, but separately, from the ballot that contains the county, state, and federal contests.
The Worcester County Board of Elections, under the purview of the state board, runs the larger-scale contests. Under its charter from the state, however, the Town of Ocean City conducts its own election, with its own regulatory body and voting equipment.
The county will have a polling station at the convention center on the other side of the exhibit hall form the city’s voting booths, allowing voters to walk to the opposite side of the room to vote in the municipal election.
“We will have plenty of signs and attendants to direct people to the city election after they vote in the county-run election,” City Clerk Kelly Allmond said.
Up through 2010, the city also held its elections in October. The 2012 election was the first to be changed to the national first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.
Voter turnout this year is anticipated to be lighter than 2012, when the city held a particularly contentious contest that drew 3,064 people to the polls out of 6,343 registered voters, a 43 percent turnout. Previous city voting rates had hovered under 25 percent.
One week before the election in 2012, a total of 358 absentee ballots were distributed, Allmond said. This year, only 115 were given out.
If the ratio of absentee voters to day-of voters remains the same, this would produce a turnout of only 985 voters for 2014. That, however, is unlikely.
“We are still bigger this year than 2010, but much lighter than in 2012,” Allmond said.
Additionally, the August rolls from the Maryland Board of Elections shows a big drop – almost 17 percent – in in the number of registered voters in Ocean City, with 5,267 this year versus 6,343 last year.
Tuesday’s city contest will see seven candidates vying for four open council seats – three four-year seats and one two-year seat, which will go to the fourth-place vote getter. This is due to current Councilman Joe Mitrecic vacating his seat after two years of his four-year term, in order to take Ocean City’s seat on the Worcester County Commissioners.
The only incumbent council candidate running is Council President Lloyd Martin, although candidate Joe Hall previously served on the council for 10 years until 2012, when he lost his re-election bid.
But the race does have five potential newcomers – Wayne Hartman, Tony DeLuca, Chris Rudolf, Matt James, and Joe Cryer, who has unsuccessfully run before.
Mayor Rick Meehan is running unopposed for re-election.
Despite the relative vacuum, campaign spending – as of a week before the election, totaled $17,387.65 for all candidates, according to campaign finance disclosures filed with Allmond’s office.
The vast majority of this spending came from three candidates, with Hartman and James each totaling roughly $6,000 in expenses, including in-kind support, and DeLuca at $4,100.
This year will also be the last for the city’s aging voting technology – mechanical machines operated by push-buttons and levers. For 2016, the city’s election will be taken over by the county board and merged with the county, state, and federal ballots.
The change was made at the city’s behest, and required Sen. Jim Mathias to have legislation passed in Annapolis requiring the state to accept municipal ballot items if requested.
The city will be charged several thousand dollars to make the change on the county’s electronic voting equipment, but this will be a one-time cost, and the city anticipates a long-term savings given the recurring cost of maintaining its own aging technology.
All seven machines are in good working order, Allmond said, but parts are difficult to find and repairs expensive. Last year, two of the city’s machines broke during the election.
The city’s 2012 election was a particularly lopsided contest, with the fourth-place candidate, Doug Cymek, garnering almost twice the votes of the fifth-place candidate, Jim Hall. The contest two years ago saw the four winning candidates having run directly against Jim and Joe Hall, whose reforms of employee pay and benefits proved highly controversial.
Critically, former City Manager Dennis Dare’s opposition to the changes resulted in him being fired in 2011. Dare then led a counter-charge by running for a council seat, and was 2012’s the highest vote-getter with 1,952 ballots cast.