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Ending special elections would be damaging to democracy - News Journal Delaware Voice

Written by JOHN C. SIGLER

One of the many problems with one-party rule is the tendency for the party in power to try to slip things through that selfishly benefit the party for ostensibly "good" reasons. Such is the case with Senate Bill 182, which would end any special election for New Castle County President when a vacancy occurs in that office.

Senate Bill 182 states that it is designed to save money, but let's face it: The party in power (that would be the Democrats) has been losing the majority of special elections for years now, so it is hardly surprising that they would want to do anything possible to limit the process. Moreover, with all due respect to the sponsors of the bill, while it may cost money to hold a special election, such "cost" is the price of democracy.

There are many reasons why avoiding a special election, particularly here in Delaware where one-party rule is currently a reality, would be especially bad policy. And subverting the democratic process in the name of supposed cost savings is not only bad policy, it is blatantly undemocratic.

By way of background, the New Castle County Council president is the only member of the 13-member council elected on a countywide basis and is the only one who brings a countywide perspective to Council meetings. Each of the other 12 members represents only his or her district. State law further provides that in the event of a vacancy in the office of New Castle County Executive for any reason, the Council President then becomes the County Executive. A special election is then held to elect a new Council President. Following Council President Paul Clark"s assuming the office of County Executive (when Chris Coons was sworn in as U.S. Senator), Tom Kovach, a Republican, was elected in a special election as the current County Council President, notwithstanding the overwhelming Democrat registration edge in the County, and despite running against a sitting, popular member of Council.

This Democrat-inspired Senate bill would substantially and radically change things. For instance, Senate Bill 182 states that if a vacancy in the office of New Castle County Council President were to occur -- for any reason, and no matter when the time -- there would be no special election. None! Instead, the remaining 12 members of Council would simply select one of their own to serve as Council President for the remainder of the term.

The problems with such a system should be readily obvious. Putting aside the fact that there would be an even number of legislators, and the potential problem of tie votes, County residents would find themselves with only one voice, rather than two, on the Council. More important, there would be no member of Council with a "countywide" perspective.

What if something happens to the former Council President who became the new County Executive, creating a second vacancy in the office? The unelected, Council-appointed Council President would then become County Executive despite having never faced the voters on a countywide basis. One might ask, "What are they afraid of?"

Indeed, as the most recent special election demonstrates, the voters may not be too keen on the idea of a current Council member, who only represents his or her district, serving as Council President, let alone becoming County Executive.

As a Republican, and as the Chairman of the GOP here in Delaware, I fully appreciate fiscal responsibility; but there are some things that government must do. One of them is to hold elections to give voice to the people. Elections are simply one of the costs of representative democracy.

There are plenty of ways that the party now in power in Dover can save money. However, taking away the ability of voters to voice their opinion is not one of them.

Rejecting democracy in the name of cost savings is at best a slippery slope down which Delaware cannot afford to slide. I ask all Delawareans to urge their legislators to vote in favor of democracy by voting "No" on Senate Bill 182.

John Sigler is a Dover attorney and the current Chairman of the Republican State Committee of Delaware.

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