In anticipation of this November’s mayoral and council member elections, the College Park City Council introduced a resolution to amend several election policies in the city charter during a virtual meeting Tuesday.
If passed, the ordinance will allow the city council to change the date of the election by March 31 in an election year and change certain deadlines for individuals to file and withdraw their candidacy, among other modifications.
The potential amendments to the charter accompany two larger proposed changes. In an effort to increase voter participation and due to the risks of in-person voting posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the council is interested in holding the city election on Sunday, Nov. 7 and mailing absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.
Currently, the city charter sets the default date of the election as the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. A proposed amendment to the charter would allow the council to have authority over changing the date — to the proposed Sunday or any other day — if they so desire, as long as they meet a March 31 deadline.
If instituted, the amendment would not be mandatory. If council members do not vote to change the election date by March 31, it will simply fall on the default date, said Janeen Miller, city clerk.
In anticipation of more absentee ballots this year, some amendments to the charter would create schedule changes to allow for more time to print, modify and mail ballots.
Changes to sections C3-6 and C4-5 of the charter would require candidates to have an earlier withdrawal deadline for special and regular elections, so that election officials have adequate time to remove their names from ballots before printing and mailing them.
Similarly, a change to section C4-5 would hold candidates submit petitions and other qualifying paperwork one week earlier than the current policy mandates. This change is to “allow more time for ballots to move back in forth in the mail system,” according to city documents.
The council’s discussion on increasing access to absentee ballots raised some concerns about the security and speed of a mail-reliant voting system.
“This whole election process that you’re considering puts an awful lot of faith on the post office being able to deliver the mail in a timely fashion,” College Park resident Carol Macknis said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Over the last several months, that’s not been the case — delivery times have been terrible … and I am very concerned about everything being related to the mail.”
Macknis suggested the council consider allowing residents to submit absentee ballot request forms through dropboxes.
“That would avoid having to have a lot of dependency on a very unreliable post office,” Macknis said.
Under the new amendments, election season would still begin on Aug. 1 and end on Nov. 7. However, most other steps of the election process, including ballot preparation and mailing, would be moved forward by at least a week.
These proposed changes would cost approximately $3,500, made up of advertising and publishing fees, according to city documents.
District 2 council member Llatetra Brown Esters introduced the ordinance and scheduled its public hearing on March 23.
Changes to the city code, also necessary to amend the election policies in question, will be introduced and discussed in March as well.