While mail-in and drop box ballots helped increase turnout in September's Democratic primary, candidates for Frederick alderman are divided on whether the city should move its elections to coincide with other contests around the state and allowing unaffiliated voters to vote in primary contests.
The city's five Democratic and two Republican candidates -- who are vying for five open seats -- took questions on a variety of issues at a virtual forum Thursday night.
Republicans Michelle Shay and Robert Fischer urged the city to look at changing its elections to coincide with the state's gubernatorial vote every four years.
Anything that would engage voters more is better, and the city could benefit from changing the timing of its elections, Shay said.
Fischer said he would support changing to gubernatorial years, as well as adding more voting sites.
The five Democratic candidates hailed the increase in participation in their party's primary from the use of mail-in and drop box ballots as well as in-person voting, but largely stayed away from whether the election timing should be changed.
Every time there's a new administration, there's talk about whether to move the year of the election and whether to make the city's races non-partisan, candidate and current Alderman Kelly Russell said.
She said she believes that a candidate's party affiliation helps give voters an idea of their basic values.
The primary may have seen fewer than 20 percent turnout, but Democrats saw a jump of about 40 percent, said candidate Donna Kuzemchak, like Russell an incumbent.
She attributed the increase to the city's mailing ballots to all registered voters, who could either mail them in or deposit them at one of several drop boxes around the city.
There was no Republican primary in September, as the party didn't field enough candidates to trigger a race.
Kuzemchak said she doesn't think a change is needed, but the city should continue to make sure people have many different ways to vote.
Continuing to engage voters across the city will help lift turnout, said Ben MacShane, a candidate who is also a sitting alderman. Most of the increases in Democratic turnout came from areas that have been traditionally marginalized, he said.
It's important to build on voting opportunities, and increasing turnout helps everyone, said candidate and incumbent Alderman Derek Shackelford. There are many ideas worth discussing, he said.
Democratic challenger Katie Nash said the city should look at data after the election and see where they need to engage more and have a conversation as they go forward.
Thursday's forum was a collaboration between the League of Women Voters and the United Way of Frederick County.
Many of the questions dealt with how to help families living under the Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) threshold, which refers to households that earn enough to put them above the federal poverty level, meaning they are unable to qualify for most public assistance programs but are still unable to cover basic living expenses such as housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and technology
Asked how to improve the current transit system in the city, Nash called for the city to work with Frederick County to provide more bus shelters. A lack of shelters creates a barrier to people using transit in bad weather, she said.
On how to use ALICE data to drive the city's spending and priorities, Russell said there needs to be a paradigm shift in how they do everything.
The statistics always need to be central when they're making policy and funding decisions, she said.
The ALICE data show gaps in several areas such as housing and child care that are essential needs for families in the city, MacShane said.
All legislation should look at helping those families, especially in areas such as transportation, housing and child care, Shackelford said.
Meanwhile, Shay called for a focus on workforce development, saying the more the city can support people learning skills, the better off the whole community will be.