Dover sets special election to fill Polce’s council seat

DOVER — Dover City Council voted Monday night to hold a special election Aug. 18 to fill the 1st District seat that will be left vacant by Councilman Tanner Polce’s resignation.

The vote was 7-1 with Mr. Polce abstaining.

Filing petitions by prospective candidates will be accepted until July 17. Voter registration will close on July 25 and the special election will take place at Elks Lodge No. 1903 at 200 Saulsbury Road.

The city clerk’s office will also mail out absentee applications to all registered voters in the 1st District due to the shortened time frame and the anticipated increase in absentee voting due to COVID-19.

Councilman Polce said he is vacating his position on council July 1 to concentrate on building his family, which began the debate on whether the spot should be filled as soon as possible or wait until next April’s municipal election.

Tanner Polce

City Councilman Fred Neil, who represents the 3rd District, thought it would be prudent to postpone the vote until next year, saying, “Not only is it a cost savings, but it is a safety issue as well.

“In terms of what we’re going through with the pandemic, people coming out to actually vote … it becomes difficult until such time as (the virus) is cleared,” he said.

“I think if you did hold it in April, you may have a better chance of people actually coming to the polls, maybe without masks — maybe with masks — but nonetheless, having a (later) time to vote would be better to get more people coming to the polls to vote.

“I don’t want to disenfranchise people and I think having it at the earliest date there’s a better chance of disenfranchising voters that are going to be afraid to come out — particularly seniors such as myself, even though I will not vote in the 1st District — because of the cost and having it at that early time could very well disenfranchise people who would not want to come out because of their concerns with their health.”

However, with many pending key decisions awaiting city council members such as the hiring of a new city manager to replace the outgoing Donna Mitchell this fall, and budget talks ramping up next spring, the majority of members said it was best to proceed forward with the special election.

“As the soon-to-be lone 1st District councilman as of July 1st, I go back and forth,” said Councilman Matt Lindell. “I understand Councilman Neil’s concerns about the health issues as well. But looking at past precedent, for example, in the federal government we’ve had House seats that have come up due to resignations and having special elections. I think people are entitled to representation, especially given the fact that whoever comes on board, we’re going to be deep into our search for a new city manager.

“I think residents in the 1st District deserve equal say in who that city manager will be. If we wait until April and the regular election, residents of the 1st District won’t have that same voice.”

Councilman David Anderson, a representative of the 4th District, said now is not the time for the city of Dover to proceed with a vacant spot on city council.

“We are at a crucial juncture right now in the city and it would be beneficial to have a full city council,” Councilman Anderson said. “I think we can deal with the absentee ballots and make it easier.

“I don’t know that the (COVID-19) situation will be any different next April — by August it may be completely normal by then — but we do know that August is not going to be a terrible time. People will be experiencing everything else in the world so they will be able to vote either by absentee ballot or by choice.”

Roy Sudler Jr., 4th District Councilman, agreed, saying, “I think it would be a great disservice to the 1st District if we don’t have two voices as intended. So I would believe a special election is very much needed.”

There was one change made. The original plan was to hold a special council meeting on Aug. 27 to give the oath of office to the newly elected 1st District councilman. However, council elected to swear its newest member in at its regular meeting on Sept. 14.

The city’s last special election took place in 2015 when Mr. Neil earned his spot on the council. That election cost the city $3,100.

Traci McDowell, director of the city clerk’s office, said that due to COVID-19, this election will have a different look.

“We will hire additional people to watch the door because at the Elks Lodge you can only have one or two people in the entryway,” she said, “and it’s mindful to have to floors marked so that as people are coming out there’s not somebody in the entryway waiting to go in.

“Some other costs will be masks. We’ll have some masks on hand if you need them for voters that come that may not have them and hand sanitizers and things like that.”