UPDATE: Georgetown to host Reading of Returns, Burying of the Hatchet event Nov. 5

Sussex County political party leaders team to bury the hatchet signifying the end to Delaware’s 2018 political season. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — COVID-19 has wiped out Sussex County Return Day 2020, but part of the unique tradition will carry on.

On Thursday, State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, Rep. Ruth Briggs King and Georgetown Mayor Bill West announced they will hold a Reading of Returns and Burying of the Hatchet on Thursday, Nov. 5 – the date this year’s Return Day was to be held.

The event will take place on the historic Circle in Georgetown.

The returns will be read at noon by Sussex County Sheriff Robert Lee, followed by the burying of the hatchet immediately on the stage in front of the Sussex County Administrative Offices by the chairpersons of the Sussex County Democratic Party, Republican Party, Independent Party, and Libertarian Party.

“This is part of the fabric of our community, to have this event, this celebration every two years. Dozens of individuals have contacted me over the course of several weeks to see what could be done to keep the tradition of Return Day alive,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “The divisive and caustic nature of the 2020 election season makes it especially important that we perform this act to show our constituents that we are ready to move past the election and govern for all people.”

Rep. Briggs King added, “Return Day is an important part of our county and adds to the way that we all work together regardless of party. The coming together to bury the hatchet is our reset to show that we are not enemies, and that regardless of our political differences, we are Americans, Delawareans, and Sussex Countians.

Mayor West echoed the sentiments of Georgetown’s state lawmakers in Dover, saying “Georgetown is the center of our beloved Sussex County.”

“This is where people, for over 200 years, have come together to celebrate the end of the election, to meet their newly elected officials, and begin the work of mending fences that may have been damaged during the partisan political season. With the turmoil that we have all faced in 2020, it’s important that we come together and move forward,” Mayor West said.

The Circle will be closed to traffic from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

No additional Return Day-related events will be held by the organizers.

All participants and spectators will be expected to abide by COVID-19 guidelines relating to social distancing and face coverings in effect at the time.

This event is neither sponsored, endorsed, nor authorized by the Sussex County Return Day, Inc. Committee.

For additional information and updates, visit BuryTheHatchet2020.com.

Sen. Pettyjohn said when the Return Day Committee decided not to have Return Day this year, he contacted Return Day Committee President Debbie Jones.

“I let her know that I was considering doing it. If the Return Day Committee was going to do a kind of stripped down event like we were doing, then we wouldn’t do it,” Sen. Pettyjohn said. “However, they chose not to hold the event. That is when we decided to step in to at least have this event that is so important to the closure of the election season.”

As part of the modification of Delaware’s state of emergency during the coronavirus pandemic, any planned event with more than 250 people in attendance would require state approval.

Sen. Pettyjohn said he notified Delaware’s Department of Public Health about the event, informing the health department he doesn’t anticipate more than 250 people.

“Of course, it is in the literal public square here in Georgetown. So, there may be people that show up to it. We’re not putting fences and gates and counting people that are coming into this public area,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “It is going to be a short duration event. We’ll see what happens.”

“We’re going to block off the whole Circle just because of social distancing,” said Mayor West. “If people don’t want to wear their masks there is plenty of room to spread out. But if you want to be up close to the stage where the talking is going on, you are going to have to wear your mask.”

Now a two-day celebration, Sussex County Return Day evolved from state law in 1791 removing the county seat from coastal Lewes to the a more geographically centered site, later named Georgetown.

The law required all votes to be cast in the new county seat on election day. Two days later, the voters would “return” to hear the results — hence the name Return Day.

In 1811, voting districts in the individual hundreds were established, but the Board of Canvassers presided over by the sheriff would still meet two days later in Georgetown to announce the final tally.

Mayor West hopes the Nov. 5 event will mark the start of a return to some degree of normalcy.

“Brian was hearing it. Ruth was hearing it and so was I, people want to get back to normal as much as possible,” said Mayor West. “With everything that has been going on in this country, this is an opportunity for us to start trying to get back to some normalcy. To be able to do this is going to bring people out, and maybe get this county and this state headed in the right direction.”