CENTREVILLE — Centreville voters overwhelmingly endorsed the charter amendment to change the number of town council members from three to five in the Monday, Oct. 7, election, 588 for to 77 against. However, the winner of the town council seat being vacated by Jim Beauchamp has yet to be determined.
Josh Shonts received 374 votes and George “Smokey” Sigler, 288. The handful of remaining ballots did not support either candidate. But with the candidate receiving the most votes not being listed as a registered voter in Queen Anne’s County, the town Board of Supervisors of Elections took 48 hours to review the results.
Town attorney Sharon Van Emburgh made the announcement shortly before 8 p.m. on Monday.
“A winner cannot be named at this time,” said Van Emburgh, “as they are listed as a registered voter in another county.”
On Wednesday, the town Board of Supervisors of Elections transmitted the Certification of Election Results to the Town Council, which were the same as the results read on Monday night.
“The Town Council is the judge of the qualifications of its members and will need to decide whether the candidate with the most votes is qualified to take the office of Town Council member. We will keep you informed of the next step in the process,” read an email from the town sent Wednesday afternoon to those on the town’s email list.
Shonts said he had completed the paperwork required by the Board of Elections and was considerably alarmed to find out it that his voter registration was not filed correctly. He said he was not informed of the situation until the morning of the election and had to be issued a provisional ballot to allow him to vote. Provisional ballots were not counted as there were not enough to change the outcome of the election.
The town charter dictates that a Council member shall be at least 25 years of age, have resided in the town for at least two years immediately preceding their election and shall be a registered voter of the town for at least six months preceding the election.
Shonts maintains that when he requested his mail to be forwarded to his fathers residence, due to a marital separation, he had no intention or knowledge that the post office would initiate a change in his voter registration.
Jeff Thompson, attorney for the county Board of Elections, said he believes the form at the post office for a change of mailing address is indeed ambiguous, noting that the form does not state voter registration is affected.
In this case, Thompson said, Shonts applied to the form a request for a permanent change of address, had it been a temporary change of address, Thompson suggested that might not have spurred a change of registration.
He said he believes that when Shonts filed to run for office, his voter registration still showed eligibility in Queen Anne’s County.
Finding the change was actually inadvertent, he said, someone called asking the board to identify the candidate’s political affiliation and when they searched for Shonts, the search did not return with him as a registered voter in Queen Anne’s County.
There would have been no reason otherwise to consider that a candidate running for office would change their residency, Thompson said.
When Shonts received a card from the Post Office, inquiring about a change in his voter registration, Shonts said he called the number on the card and told them not to change his voter registration, but somehow it was changed to Kent County anyway.
Thompson said they first learned of the inconsistency last Thursday, Oct. 3.
“We did not want to impact the election (with this information),” said Thompson. “To make it fair was for no one on the street to know.”
Thompson said they will make every effort to have the matter resolved within 10 days, consulting with the state Board of Elections and Kent County. Should the Board of Elections find that Shonts was indeed not eligible to be on the ballot, said Thompson, Shonts will have the right to appeal.
Section 407 of the Town Charter: If any person is aggrieved by the action of the Board of Supervisors of Elections, he or she may appeal to the Council within five calendar days of the date of the action. Any decision or action of the Council upon such appeals may be appealed to the Circuit Court for the county within the time allowed for such appeals.
However, under Section 416 of the town charter: The Council has the power to provide by ordinance in every respect not covered by the provisions of this Charter for the conduct of registration, nomination, and town elections and for the prevention of fraud in connection therewith, and for a recount of ballots in case of doubt or fraud.
When reached for comment about the election, and asked if he considered the election to be fair, candidate George “Smokey” Sigler said, “Yes, it was fair. I followed the rule of law. I filled out the filing paperwork and submitted it to the town hall. That paperwork was then forwarded to the election board that verified the information. My name then appeared on the ballot. We are a nation of laws, which are the fabric that binds us together as a nation.”
Sigler’s comments, refer to the potential for winning candidate, Josh Shonts, votes to be overturned based on a change in voter registration.
Voter turnout was slow early in the day Monday, reported election officials, but picked up and by evening had nearly doubled the usual turnout. The total ballot count was 653 plus 20 absentee ballots.