Utopia for Incumbents
During recent years the Trustees of the New Castle Common have developed a “do it yourself” process for conducting Trustee elections, which has reduced public confidence in the election process. The Trustees maintain their own unique voter rolls. They have also designed the election schedule and the process for elections. Presumably, this procedure is incorporated in their bylaws. However, this information is not posted on their website.
The Trustees do not use the official voter roll for the City of New Castle. Their rationale for maintaining their own voter roll is that New Castle residents, who are the beneficiaries of the Trust, may not vote in Trustee elections until they have lived in New Castle for one year. This suspension of voting by new residents should be abolished, and all City residents should be able to vote in Trustee elections, enabling use of the official City voting roll.
The Trustees recently stopped using voting machines provided by the State Department of Elections. The voting machines provided an automated system for tabulating ballots. Instead, the Trustees have adopted paper ballots which must be counted manually.
Schedule for Voting
Voting is conducted for six days at certain hours when the Trustee office is open. Most of these hours are at times when voters who work out of town are unable to appear. The final voting time is on Saturday from 8 am to noon; in the past Saturday was the only in-person voting day and ran from 10 am to 6 pm.
Incumbents Count Ballots
The voting place is the Trustee office, and the ballots remain at this office until the votes are counted and the election decided. When the voting process ends, several incumbent Trustees count the ballots and announce the results.
Two representatives from the New Castle Weekly have volunteered to oversee the vote counting process. This local newspaper is housed in Trustee facilities for below-market rent, and generally functions as a house organ for the Trustees and the city government.
No Secret Ballot
Voters are handed a ballot and an envelope printed with a number. The voter marks the ballot, puts it in the sealed envelope, and deposits it into a large locked box. The votes are not secret, because the number indicates who marked the ballot in that envelope.
There is no consistent, objective, and centralized process for distributing and counting absentee ballots. This has contributed to additional controversies and reduced confidence in the Trustee election system.
Excessive Term Limits
Trustees originally served lifetime terms which have now been reduced to twelve years. Most elected officials in Delaware serve two or four year terms with our two senators serving for six years. Some Trustees serve three and even four twelve-year terms remaining in office for almost half a century. The current Trustee term limits are way out of line with common practice in American democracy and should be reduced to at least six years.
Incumbent Endorsement and Support
Currently the first candidate to file to run for Trustee is assumed by some residents to be the incumbent Trustees’ pick.Some Trustees have been known to install yard signs and express their support in other ways. Finally, they count the votes which elects their chosen candidate.
The Trustee’s “do it yourself” election system should be abolished. The Trustees should use the City voter roll and state-provided election machines which count votes, automatically providing both a secret ballot and a secure vote count. An objective process for distributing and counting absentee ballots must be developed. Trustee elections should be conducted only on Saturdays from 10 am to 6 pm, enabling more people to vote.