An ordinance to expand voting rights in Rehoboth Beach has undergone a makeover.
The new proposal would allow a person whose property is 100 percent owned in an artificial entity – such as an LLC, partnership or corporation – to vote, if the person owns at least 50 percent in the entity. Voters who are voting on behalf of an artificial entity must sign an ownership affidavit attesting to their qualifications. The ordinance states that a person is entitled to only one vote; if a person is eligible to vote as a resident but also owns property in an artificial entity, that person can vote only one time.
Mayor Paul Kuhns said the purpose of the changes is to make the voting process easier and more inclusive.
“From my perspective, giving the opportunity to vote is a good thing,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of concerns. It’s really trying to be fair to our neighbors.”
Kuhns said his neighbors are part-time residents who own their home in an LLC. He said most people who own their property in an artificial entity are like them and not people who own 10 properties.
“I don’t think these people are trying to hide anything. I think they are trying to do what’s right for their families,” Kuhns said.
He said the ordinance seeks to ensure “one person, one vote.”
The commissioners raised little argument over the new version. Commissioner Patrick Gossett said it should be clear who is allowed to vote.
Fenwick Island and Henlopen Acres already allow artificial entities to vote. Those towns allow proxy voting on behalf of the entity, but Rehoboth’s ordinance does not propose proxy voting. City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said it would be a nightmare administratively.
Rehoboth already allows some entity voting in the form of revocable trusts. However, if the owner of a property owned in a trust wants to vote, a copy of the trust document identifying the grantor/settler and the trustee must be provided to the city. The new ordinance does not call for similar documentation for LLCs or other artificial entities, other than a signed affidavit.
The other major change in the ordinance is that anyone who registers to vote is on the rolls for life. Under current city law, a voter who has not voted in two consecutive elections is purged from the rolls and must reregister.
The commissioners also removed a proposal that would have allowed leaseholders to vote after holding a lease for 30 days. Instead, the city will revert back to allowing only 10-year leaseholders to vote.
The original version of the ordinance eliminated the ability of nonresident commissioners to be reimbursed for their travel to city meetings; however, the new version reinstates the reimbursements.
Finally, the ordinance codifies state law that says voters can register to vote after 30 days of residency.
Further discussion on the ordinance is anticipated for the commissioners’ Friday, Nov. 17 meeting. A town hall meeting on the ordinance will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Rehoboth fire hall.
To view the most recent copy of the ordinance and accompanying statement of intent, go to cityofrehoboth.com.