The City of Lewes held its first election in six years in July. So much time between elections highlighted issues related to the city’s voter registration rolls.
To be removed from the list of eligible voters, a person must not have voted in two consecutive elections. Because the previous Lewes election was in 2014, the 2020 list contained many names of people who have died or moved out of town. The city’s voter registration policy is set in stone by the city’s charter, making it difficult to change.
“Even if we know someone has moved, we can’t remove them unless they contact us to be removed,” said City Manager Ann Marie Townshend.
Mayor and city council are discussing other ways to keep the list up to date. Councilman Rob Morgan proposed a change to the charter that would permit, not require, the city to use the state’s voter registration system instead of its own.
Joan Reader, chair of the city’s board of elections, said using the state list may work better, because many people assume that since they registered to vote with the state, they are also automatically registered with the city, which is not the case.
Deputy Mayor Bonnie Osler said there are issues related to using the state list that would need to be ironed out, specifically how to verify a person is a bona fide resident of the city. A qualified voter must be 18 years old and a citizen of the United States and resident of the City of Lewes.
The city could verify residency through a utility bill, she said.
“One place where anyone coming into the city really needs to go is the Board of Public Works,” she said. “If there was a way we could be notified of changes in accounts … we would know if someone leaves or comes into the city.”
Another place to verify information could be through gross rental receipts tax, Osler said.
Townshend said beach towns face unique challenges too.
“To some degree you’re left with people being honest and realizing they’re signing something saying they’re a bona fide resident, and if they’re not, they’re falsifying a document,” Townshend said.
The only other Sussex County municipality using the state’s registration list is Georgetown. Other Delaware municipalities using the state list are Dover, Smyrna and Newark.