Middletown will shift to a vote-by-mail process for its April election of the burgess and commissioners, sending ballots to every registered voter in the town who hasn’t already requested one and requiring that they be returned to the town by April 24 to be counted.
Ballots will be sent to voters by April 6, the original date of the election. They must be returned to the town by 8 p.m. April 24.
The burgess and commissioners approved the change by a 4-2 vote held in a virtual meeting held Wednesday evening, with Burgess John Miller and Commissioner Jennifer Falcinelli opposed.
Miller is running unopposed for burgess, while commissioners Chris Goodman and Tom Catania and challenger Jean LaPadula are competing for two commissioner seats.
The town, with 3,503 registered voters, had already received 372 absentee ballot requests by its March 20 deadline.
Wednesday’s meeting included a discussion with town attorney Brandy Peeples about whether the town could even vote to move the election, since Miller, Goodman and Catania would be voting on a decision that affects them directly.
The town’s charter requires that an ordinance, which would be necessary to change the election date, requires “the favorable votes of a majority of the legislative body,” Peeples told the burgess and commissioners Wednesday, as well as in a written opinion.
Since Miller, Goodman and Catania have a direct interest in the election’s outcome, it would be a conflict of interest for them to vote on whether to postpone, Peeples said.
That would leave only Falcinelli and her colleagues Rick Dietrick and Larry Bussard to vote, preventing a majority.
But the three officials up for election would be allowed to vote on “an administrative or ministerial duty that does not affect the disposition or decision of the matter,” Peeples’ decision said, such as how to conduct the voting in the election.
Catania said he understood Peeples’ perspective, but the municipality was caught up in a worldwide problem.
“We’re dealing with an extraordinary time, and we’re living in a bizarre time,” he said.
He proposed moving the election to June 1, holding any absentee ballots already received and extending the deadline for people to request absentee ballots to May 15.
The three commissioner candidates expressed concern about not being able to go out and meet voters, whether by going from door to door or at events, in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Even if they did wait until June, door-to-door campaigning will probably still not be an option, since the virus may not have peaked even then, Miller said.
LaPadula said she would suffer the most from not being able to campaign, since she’s not an incumbent and therefore not as well-known.
Bussard argued that the election should go on as scheduled.
If people can go to the grocery store and stand in line at a safe distance, they can stand in line to vote, he said.
But Dietrick said people are being told by all kinds of officials not to go out.
If they have the election as planned, they’re doing the opposite of what people have been told to do, he said.