Dover Election Board votes to keep 3 candidates’ names on city ballot

DOVER — It took  half an hour of discussion, but in the end three candidates running for Dover City Council — including two incumbents — were ensured their names will be included on the ballot at the April 18 Municipal Election.

A unanimous 4-0 vote by the city’s election board in the City Hall conference room Friday ensured that City Council President Timothy A. Slavin, Councilman Fred A. Neil and candidate Tanner Wm. Polce will be listed.

The state’s Commissioner of Elections office had notified the city clerk’s office Feb. 24 that Mr. Slavin, Mr. Neil and Mr. Polce had failed to submit required paperwork on time.

“I think as the discussion (with the Election Board) went on they realized that nobody intended to be a scofflaw,” Mr. Neil said. “The draconian part of the entire operation is they warned us that if you don’t have your finances in on March 21 you’re going to be fined. Well, in this case, you just can’t get on the ballot.”

All three candidates were found to be in violation of Delaware Title 15 §7555 (d) in that they failed to file a Certification of Intention or a Statement of Organization with the Commissioner of Elections office no later than seven days after filing their candidacy.

There have been similar cases involving candidates in municipal elections in Newark and Middletown recently.

Middletown’s election board resolved their city’s case on March 3 in favor of three candidates who allegedly filed their documents after the seven-day deadline had passed.

It decided that a combination of administrative errors and a lack of oversight by city and state officials led to the decision.

M. Milford Caldwell, a member of Dover’s Election Board, indicated that issues throughout several different cities shows there is some kind of problem that is taking place.

Mr. Caldwell made the motion to allow all three candidates to appear on the ballot and it was seconded by Anita L. McDowell Boyer. Curtis E. Raymond, who presided over the meeting, while Cherritta L. Matthews rounded out the unanimous vote.

Election board chairman William T. Garfinkel, who is running for a 1st District seat on Dover’s council against Mr. Polce and Matthew J. Lindell, recused his self from the proceedings.

“I think it opened minds that there needs to be a resolution to these kinds of problems that are happening in the state,” Mr. Caldwell said. “I think when you continue to have problems like this, it’s going to continue to manifest itself throughout the state, so something needs to be resolved within the state of Delaware.”

At the start of Friday’s meeting, Mr. Raymond wondered if the election board should take any action and that “accepting evidence (from the candidates) would be meaningless.”

He did think the state helped the board come to its conclusion.

Delaware Commissioner of Elections Elaine Manlove wrote a letter on March 6 to Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen and to the mayors of Middletown and Newark.
She stated that “[a]dministrative errors or oversights by municipal or state officials shall not be grounds for declaring a person ineligible to be a candidate.”

“I was realizing that the board wanted to make sure that we got this done today,” Mr. Raymond said. “I thought because there was a valid relief valve from the state, because the state had already told us that if we vote for it, they’ll put them back on the ballot.

“That made our job easier in a way, but harder in a way too, because it didn’t gave us a real platform here.”

No one from the Commissioner of Elections office attended the meeting.

Each candidate had their own reasons for the paperwork problems.

Mr. Polce said he was unaware of the seven-day filing deadline, claiming he was told to file a Statement of Organization and he did that eight days after his election petition was verified by the clerk’s office on Jan. 24.

Mr. Polce was pleased with the outcome, despite enduring a bit of a rollercoaster ride at Friday’s meeting.

“I think the major issue and the overwhelming issue is municipalities don’t want to restrict candidates on the ballot,” he said. “It was a great outcome and an outcome that was rooted in logic, so I’m very happy.”

Mr. Neil said he turned in his documents on time but they were rejected because he didn’t put down cell phone numbers for members of his campaign committee, which he called “unconstitutional.”

Mr. Neil, an incumbent, is facing challengers Lance E. Moffa and Jane E. Rolfes for the 3rd District seat.

Mark F. Dunkle, Mr. Slavin’s attorney, said the filing deadline can be very confusing to candidates in its wording. Mr. Slavin is running unopposed.

In a March 6 email to Mr. Slavin, Mr. Dunkle wrote “In my opinion, you have timely and fully complied with 15 De/.C. §7555(d). I am also confirming that in my opinion under the applicable provisions of the Charter of the City of Dover, Article II, Section 5, since your seat was unopposed, you have properly retained your seat as the at-large City Councilperson until the next general election in April 2021.”

Mr. Raymond said he believes the shared discussion among the Election Board led to the correct decision.

“My feeling was once I got the sense that the board wanted them on the ballot, there’s no reason not to,” he said. “That’s why I said, ‘Let’s move it to a vote.’”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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