Incumbents Dale Cooke, TJ Redefer and Paul Bauer have retained their commissioner seats in an election so close that town code mandated a recount.
The Sussex County Board of Elections certified machine ballots prior to a Sept. 23 recount of absentee votes conducted by the Dewey Beach Board of Elections that confirmed the initial certified vote tally from the Sept. 21 Dewey Beach municipal election.
Commissioner candidate Phil Rowe, who lost to Bauer by six votes, filed a complaint. Rowe said Bauer was listed as nonresident on absentee ballots but as a resident on in-person ballots.
“Identifying him as a resident has defrauded the citizens of Dewey, many of who believed they were voting for a candidate that resides here,” Rowe said. “Resident office holders are indeed a different class, with additional benefits, such as being eligible to be mayor.”
Bauer said he filed as a resident. He said when he ran for office two years ago, he filed as a nonresident, but since then has made Dewey his primary residence in order to fulfill his responsibilities as a commissioner. He said while he still owns property in Wilmington, his driver’s license now states he lives in Dewey.
Rowe disagreed. “His domicile is in Wilmington. I could prove it if I had to. An under-oath deposition may clarify his status,” he said. “I don’t care where he resides. The issue is he can’t run as both. Municipal office holders found to have fraudulent resident status are routinely removed from office.”
Dewey Beach Board of Elections Chair Elaine Bole said the mistake was not Bauer’s. “That was a mistake on our part,” she said. “It wasn’t anything he sent to us.”
Rowe said he will seek an injunction for a new election, or for the Board of Elections to decide which votes will count for Bauer - the absentee votes in which he was listed as a nonresident, or the in-person votes in which he was listed as a resident.
“It’s not a fair election,” Rowe said. “It’s a material misrepresentation.”
Town Counsel Fred Townsend said due process will prevail. “We’ll be looking at this very closely,” he said. “The town will be entirely open as to how this is going to work.”
The Board of Elections will meet at 11 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 26, at the Lifesaving Station, 1 Dagsworthy Ave., to hear Rowe’s complaint.
Cooke was the top vote-getter, with 414 votes, 216 by machine and 198 absentee. Redefer had 367 total votes, 186 by machine and 181 absentee; and Bauer had 364 total votes, 189 machine and 175 absentee.
Rowe finished his run with 358 votes, 137 by machine and 221 absentee.
The Dewey Beach Town Council organizational meeting is set for 10 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 28, at the Lifesaving Station, 1 Dagsworthy Ave. Newly elected commissioners will be sworn in for two-year terms, and commissioners will vote to appoint the town mayor for a one-year term. Town council secretary will also be sworn in for a one-year term.
Townsend said if swearing-in is delayed due to the outcome of Rowe’s complaint, current commissioners will retain their seats until the issue is resolved.