Absentee ballots at record high in Rehoboth

City mails 783 this week ahead of Aug. 8 election
June 26, 2020

Story Location:
Rehoboth Beach City Hall
229 Rehoboth Avenue
Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971
United States

In what may be a preview of statewide and national elections later this year, a record number of absentee ballots has already been mailed in Rehoboth Beach for the city’s 2020 municipal election.

The city began mailing absentee ballots June 24, and according to city election officials, there were 783 sent out. Rehoboth has offered absentee balloting since 1992, and while ballots haven’t been returned yet, the amount mailed earlier this week almost doubles the highest number of absentee ballots cast for a city election: In 2017, there were 436 absentee ballots cast.

This year’s mayoral race was already set to be historic because there were three candidates when the filing deadline passed – Commissioner Edward Chrzanowski, Mayor Paul Kuhns and former Commissioner Stan Mills. It was the first time in at least 30 years, and possibly in city history, there were three candidates, but Chrzanowski announced he was dropping out of the race June 18.

In the race for the two open commissioner seats, there are four candidates – former Commissioner Patrick Gossett, former Commissioner Jay Lagree, Purple Parrot owner Hugh Fuller and Rachel Macha, a member of the planning commission, and parks and shade tree commission.

A change to state law in 2007 required the city to provide the absentee ballots by mail; prior to that change, they had to be picked up in person. Election records show city voters have been taking advantage of mailed absentee ballots since the change. Before 2007, there was only one time the number of absentee ballots cast surpassed 200. Every year since then, except one, there have been over 200.

The city declined to provide how many registered voters there are right now, but the number of absentee ballots mailed this year is already greater than 50 percent of registered voters in every year except four since 1992.

The number of absentee ballot requests is expected to keep rising for the election taking place Saturday, Aug. 8. A person can register to vote until Thursday, July 9. The deadline for the city to mail an absentee ballot is Tuesday, Aug. 4. A qualified elector may request an absentee ballot to vote as late as noon, Friday, Aug. 7. All absentee ballots must be received by mail or in person before the polls close on the day of the election.

Krys Johnson, city spokeswoman, provided the absentee ballot information. She said the city expects more absentee ballots to be requested between now and the deadline.

Candidate reaction to absentee ballot requests

Kuhns said he believes voters are submitting absentee ballot requests because they are considering the health risks of actually showing up at the polls.

“I think this is the wave of the future for voting all over the country,” said Kuhns. “The increased health risk is avoided by both the voter as well as the poll workers.”

Macha said COVID-19 has required companies and city governments to rethink current processes and realize they must accommodate a more remote world, socially and digitally. 

It’s tough to predict how absentee voting will affect the results, said the candidates.

Mills said he thinks voters will have to learn about the candidates through letters, newspaper articles, candidates forums, mailers and word of mouth from their neighbors. However, he said, name recognition should translate into favorable votes.

Gossett said Rehoboth Beach has always had a strong voter turnout, especially in mayoral election years.

“I would not expect this year to be any different,” he said.

It may be tough to predict, said Fuller, but he sees it as a positive because it demonstrates that voters are interested in the election, and the issues and challenges confronting our city.

Lagree said he thinks the large number of absentee ballots will favor those candidates who get their campaign working earlier than usual, and provide details on their positions on the issues.

Macha said she’s hoping voters who requested ballots will pause, read bios, do research and choose the best candidate.

“Rehoboth voters are smart and will be thoughtful in their decision,” said Macha.

Despite the spike in absentee balloting this year, and the new challenges because of it, all the candidates said they believe staff is up to the task.

“None at all,” said Kuhns, on his level of concern. “The city election staff is fully prepared and planning for this.”

Gossett concurred. The city has some of the most qualified, hardworking staff to be found in any municipal government, he said.

Fuller said city staff has a process that works.

“If it takes a little longer to get the results, that’s better than not having people vote at all,” said Fuller.

The history of absentee voting in Rehoboth Beach:

Rehoboth Beach has had absentee balloting since 1992. A change to state law in 2007 required the city to offer absentee balloting by mail. In this table, the first number is the number of absentee votes; the second number is the total number of votes; the third number is registered voters:

  • 2019 - 335 absentee votes; 1,036 total votes; 1,510 registered voters
  • 2018 - 307; 1,013; 1,535
  • 2017 - 436; 1,315; 1,706
  • 2016 - 299; 1,066; 1,776
  • 2015 - 219; 1,004; 1,472
  • 2014 - 281; 1,077; 1,384
  • 2013 - no election
  • 2012 - 154; 770; 1,529
  • 2011 - 294; 1,154; 1,519 
  • 2010 - no election
  • 2009 - 233; 987; 1,489
  • 2008 - 325; 1,218; 1,462
  • 2007 - 352; 1,206; 1,648
  • 2006 - 171; 1,007; 1,539
  • 2005 - 289; 1,191; 1,346
  • 2004 - 132; 807; 1,142
  • 2003 - 71; 719; 1,257
  • 2002 - 138; 890; 1,269
  • 2001 - 137; 848; 1,153
  • 2000 - 69; 667; 1,099
  • 1999 - 69; 723; 1,241 
  • 1998 - no election
  • 1997 - 44; 719; 1,388
  • 1996 - 87; 1,018; 1,457 
  • 1995 - 117; 1,165; 1,531
  • 1994 - 77; 947; 1,481
  • 1993 - no election
  • 1992 - 96; 903; 1,622

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