Seaford resident raises questions about election process

Signs point to the contested race for mayor between councilman James King iand mayoral incumbent David Genshaw in the city’s May 16 election. Mayor Genshaw retained the mayoral reins in the May election that has drawn questions from Mr. King regarding holding the event during a pandemic and voter registration. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

SEAFORD — The city’s 2020 municipal election season was one staged during a pandemic, highlighted by a large voter turnout and punctuated by debate.

The record will show that David Genshaw retained the mayoral reins, turning back the challenge of City Councilman James King, while incumbent Councilman Dan Henderson and newcomer Jose Santos secured council seats in the election, held May 16 following postponement from April 18 due to the coronavirus crisis.

However, city resident Dan Cannon has filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint with the Delaware Department of Justice, alleging the city may have violated state laws in what he has labeled “secret” meetings of the city’s election board.

Seaford City Manager Charles Anderson declined comment regarding the FOIA filing, noting that Mr. Cannon has submitted his complaint to the Department of Justice.

“We’re allowing that to run its course. Our attorney is going to respond to that,” Mr. Anderson said. “It is really for the DOJ to figure out.”

A message was left by the Delaware State News to Mr. Cannon seeking additional information, but no response was received.

Mr. King, citing circumstances amid COVID-19, led an unsuccessful effort to postpone the election beyond May.

“Well, you have to understand that we were in the middle of a pandemic, so there was a lot of interest in postponing the election. Because in conscience and faith, how do you get out and campaign in the middle of a pandemic? You can’t,” said Mr. King. “I wrote a list of questions to be presented to this board, and actually Mr. Dan Griffin, our city solicitor, made a recommendation to Charles Anderson that this letter not be read.”

Mr. King said he sent a letter about four days before the May election to Delaware Election Commissioner Anthony Albence.

James King

“I filed a petition to postpone the election based on several issues. I sent that to the state of Delaware election commissioner,” said Mr. King. “To be honest, I have probably sent him about 30 emails, and I have gotten no response back from Anthony, whatsoever.”

Mr. King also criticized the city and its municipal elections board, claiming that meetings of that board were not properly advertised.

“It was brought to my attention from somebody that lives here in the city, … and I reached back out to Charles and said, ‘Hold on a minute. Did the board meet this day?’” said Mr. King. “I’m like, ‘Well, there is no agenda. There are no minutes, and nothing has been posted to the city’s website. We can’t do this.’”

“Dan Cannon had a very similar situation where he sent a letter into this (elections) board for questions to be asked of the board, and Dan Griffin once again made a decision not to read the letter of questions to this board,” said Mr. King.

While outpolled by Mayor Genshaw 317-270 for mayor, Mr. King did retain his seat on City Council.

Councilman King questioned the city’s efforts to canvass voter registration and absentee ballots.

“Let me give an example,” Councilman King said. “The Manor House, Dave Genshaw’s father-in-law is a resident there. So, the city goes in, and they do an absentee ballot, then the city employees are taking absentee ballots back to City Hall, and then, they are doing like a voter registration event the same day.”

Mr. Anderson offered the city’s perspective.

“We go to the Manor House routinely. They ask us to come. I’ve work here (with the city) 30 years, and as far as I know, I think we’ve done registration at the Manor House every year, regardless of who is there,” Mr. Anderson said. “This year was even heightened — if you think about it — these are people that have restricted travel. We go do voter registration, if someone calls; a shut-in, an elderly person or anything like that, our city clerk Tracy Torbert will go register them or help them with an absentee ballot if they need to.”

Mr. Anderson noted that Seaford’s voter registration differs from the state’s and some other municipalities’.

“We do not utilize the voter registration process that the state has. When you go to get your driver’s license, you sign up for the state. We have our own Book of Registered Voters. We have been taking on, over the last several years at the urging of all of the council members and mayor, to try to increase voter registrations,” Mr. Anderson said. “Any resident that comes in and signs up for utilities, water, sewer or electric, we ask them if they would like to register at that time. We do registration all year long, right here at the front counter.”

Voter turnout for the May 2020 election is one of the largest in recent elections.

“This year, the board of election did want to emphasize absentee voting because of the pandemic situation,” Mr. Anderson said. “We allowed absentee ballot voting through the drive-thru. Our goal was everybody who wanted to vote, we wanted them to vote, and we wanted them to be comfortable voting.”

In addition to the Manor House, the city did a voter registration/absentee ballot event at the Nanticoke Senior Center.

Councilman King contends the playing field was unfair.

“And I am asking for off-site voter registration events, and I am being denied,” said Councilman King. “But the city is doing things that I felt were in favor of our sitting mayor. So, I am like, ‘Well, I can’t do it, but you guys can do it.’”

According to Mr. Anderson, Councilman King held a registration event with another candidate at the candidate’s place of business, and they asked to take the Book of Registered Voters but were denied.

“We want to keep control of it, because it’s so important to verify; your name, you are who you say you are. There are some questions you have to answer to prove you’re a bona fide voter,” said Mr. Anderson. “We want our impartial people to do that. So, our city clerk is the front line in doing that. We just don’t hand the book to someone. … ‘Go sign up whoever you want.’ There is a process controlled by the charter.”

Mr. Anderson said the city provided Councilman King the necessary paperwork to fill out for voters, but not the book.

“What we said we would do during those times and those days, we kept City Hall open. Then, they brought those registrations down to us at the end of the event, and we registered those people there in our book,” Mr. Anderson said. “In my view, staff here did everything we could to try to get people registered to try to ensure the integrity of the absentee process here. It was a very difficult.”

Compounding the issue during the pandemic was the “life” of absentee ballots.

“The conundrum that we were in for this election was very interesting. We postponed the election. The board of election really at the beginning of the pandemic, and we were in a state of emergency, they did not feel comfortable, as I think the rest of the nation, in holding an election. So, they postponed it by a month,” said Mr. Anderson.

“Once you cast an absentee ballot, that ballot is only good for 60 days. So, what we were running up against when we were dealing with the election, do we postpone it again as some people suggested? Do we continue with it as some people suggested?” said Mr. Anderson.

“The attorney and our folks were presented with the information that you have this number of ballots … that are only good for 60 days. Well, people voted before the anticipated additional Election Day. We had already postponed it about 30 days. So, they were 30 days becoming invalid. So, that really weighed on them heavy, because then what do you do with those ballots? They could become no good. They could have to be destroyed. You could have to ask people to vote twice. That was one factor that was considered in doing it.”

Mr. Anderson added that the process was tedious but fair.

“The only thing I can say is our people worked very hard to ensure the vote went fairly for all the candidates,” said Mr. Anderson. “And under the circumstances, it was difficult. And I think our city clerk and our staff did a really phenomenal job.”