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Town officials talk about election rules

Chris Patterson
The Gazette

Emmitsburg town commissioners are considering new election laws that would go into effect during the next town election in April.

Commission President Bill O'Neil submitted a draft of the new laws for discussion to the board at Monday's town meeting.

After much discussion, the board agreed to ask town staff to bring a draft of the rules to a vote at the Nov. 1 town meeting. While board members agreed that election rules were needed, they did not all agree on all of the proposed rules. One rule that was heavily debated dealt with election monitoring by "poll watchers."

The rule, as proposed by O'Neil, read, "All candidates for elective office whose names are printed on the official Emmitsburg ballot, are entitled to designate one individual to monitor the vote counting and take notes, without interfering in the election process." O'Neil said most municipalities have poll watchers to prevent animosity between different campaigns. He said he was a poll watcher when he lived elsewhere and it was "quite boring."

Commissioner Diane Walbrecker said she wasn't sure why poll watchers were needed when the town appoints election judges who are "upstanding citizens of the town."

Walbrecker said she worried election judges would assume they weren't trusted if poll watchers were created. She also argued that in a small town such as Emmitsburg, many candidates -- including herself -- don't have a campaign staff and would have trouble finding someone to act as a poll watcher.

Commissioner Joyce Rosensteel said she agreed with Walbrecker and would not want to be a judge and "have someone staring at me while I'm trying to do my job."

O'Neil said it wasn't a matter of trust. "Your numbers should match up with my numbers, and if you're 20 off of mine, there's something wrong here... Everybody's numbers should jive..." he said.

Mayor Jim Hoover agreed that poll watchers were not needed and that most places with poll watchers are much larger than Emmitsburg. He said the ability to appeal the vote count would still exist and should address any concerns.

In an informal vote, the board otherwise agreed with the rules as proposed. One of the rules was to put restrictions on how close campaigners will be permitted to stand to the polling place. While discussion considered distances ranging from 50 feet to 300 feet, the board members seemed to be most comfortable with 100 feet.

Hoover said after the meeting that elections would continue to be held at the former town hall on East Main Street and he thought 100 feet was reasonable.

The board also discussed whether to include a provision making it possible for an elected official to be recalled from office.

They said that while state laws require signatures on a recall petition from 20 percent of the registered voters, the board agreed informally that the percentage should be higher in Emmitsburg because it's a small town.

Board members joked that 25 percent of the town is always upset with something their elected officials have done and it would be too "easy" to get that many signatures. They agreed that requiring 50 percent of the signatures of registered voters would be more reasonable.

After the discussion, the board asked the town staff to put together a draft ordinance that would include the election rules they discussed and bring them back for vote at the Nov. 1 meeting.

Board adds second monthly meeting

In other business, the board unanimously approved a change to a town ordinance to add another town meeting each month. Previously the board only met on the first Monday of each month.

Effective immediately, the board of commissioners will meet on the first and third Mondays of each month. The next meeting of the board will be at 7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 18. If the first Monday meeting falls on a holiday, the meeting will move to the next night ­ a Tuesday. If the meeting on the third Monday falls on a holiday, the meeting will be moved to Wednesday of the same week.

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