In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about voter turnout in Ocean City, specifically how to light a fire under residents to ensure they take the time every other year to vote.
The Citizens For Ocean City group is working diligently to motivate the citizenry into taking an active role in local politics, voting on a consistent basis and trying to get unregistered voters on the town’s books. Those are worthwhile efforts, but there’s one simple way to spike voter turnout.
That’s merging the Ocean City elections with the general election, held each November.
To most of us, voting is our civic duty and a way to let our voices (no matter how singular they may be) be heard. However, there’s a huge amount of apathy among some and many, unbelievably, still think they vote for Ocean City posts when they cast their ballots for the governor, president and other state seats. Ask around, there is confusion.
In early 2010, the council debated the issue of eliminating the independent council election and moving it to November. The move would have saved approximately $18,000, but in a 6-1 vote, Councilman Joe Hall opposed, the council decided to retain its own municipal election.
That was a mistake, and city officials are slowly starting to realize that fact, but some still seem reluctant to move the election date because they want their day, as it was said often during discussions last year.
We like Ocean City’s election as much as anyone. It’s small town politics at its best. Citizens converge on the convention center to vote, passing by council members and wannabes, on their way. They later hear the election results read inside the convention center, and emotions and celebrations run high in both directions.
While it would be sad to that high theater come to an end, increasing voter turnout trumps that warm and fuzzy feeling.
When the council members expressed reluctance to merge the elections, comments included council members wanting their day to shine, alloing the town to retain its identity and fearing local races could get buried by the larger state and federal races.
Legitimate arguments, but the pathetic turnouts over the last three elections demand a change.
Besides moving the election date and mobilizing the citizenry to become more active, the other ways to ensure high turnout history shows is to have a contested mayoral election or a controversial referendum.
Without either of those on the ballot, the last three election voter turnouts have averaged 23 percent, or around 1,475 voters casting ballots.
This is an easy decision, and it’s time for the council minority to enact this change. Joe Hall continues to support merging the elections, and this would be a way to flip the vote.