Laurel resident vows to never cast ballot in another election

By Tony E. Windsor

Laurel residents will head to the polls today, Thursday, March 28, as part of the biannual municipal elections to elect a mayor and a councilman. One Laurel resident, however, says she was removed by the town from the municipal voting roll and has no intentions of ever voting in the town again. A third generation Laurel community member, Toni Gootee, of Delaware Avenue, says she feels the town charter regarding municipal elections is antiquated and should be reviewed and revised.

Earlier this year Gootee and her husband, Ralph, received a letter from the town informing them that according to the town's Charter, because they had not voted in the last two municipal elections (2009, 20011), their names were removed from the voting roll.

Gootee said this is a law that she had never heard about and she was stunned. "I couldn't believe this," she said. "This was like a slap in the face. We have lived here all these years and because we did not vote in two elections we were taken off the voter list? I could understand it if it were 10 or 20, but two is ridiculous. I am still angry about this." Her anger was enhanced when Gootee said she learned that a 92-year-old resident who had run a very successful Laurel business for many years was also taken off the list of registered voters for the same reason.

"Why isn't some consideration shown to residents that have supported Laurel both financially and actively for many years? This issue has changed my feelings about Laurel. It is not the friendly caring town I grew up in," Gootee said.

The Laurel Town Charter, Section 8(c) regarding "Manner of Holding Biannual Municipal Elections," states: "A person shall be required to register one time; provided, however, that if a registered voter fails to vote in two (2) consecutive General Municipal Elections in which there is a contest for any office, his or her name shall be removed from the Books of Registered Voters and notice shall be sent to such registered voter at his last known address, advising such voter that his name has been removed from the list of registered voters and it will be necessary to register again in order to be eligible to vote in the General Municipal Election."

Gootee was so angered about the law that on Feb. 25, three days before voter registration closed, she sent a letter to the Town of Laurel. As of Monday, March 25, Gootee has received no response to her letter. Prior to having sent the letter, she visited Town Hall to express her displeasure and a short time later received a call from Laurel Town Operations Manager, Jamie Smith.

Smith explained that the Town Charter, established in 1880, stipulates that registered voters who fail to vote in two municipal elections will be removed from the list of registered voters and would need to re-register.

Gootee says while she appreciates Smith's response to her concern, she does not accept the reasoning behind the Charter rule. "This Charter was written in 1880," she said.

"Doesn't the town review the Charter and update things to bring it to meet more current times? Laurel residents pay taxes and are imposed fees and then are told that they cannot vote in the municipal elections because they missed two elections. This is insulting."

Smith, who began working for the town in 1997, said that since 1999, when she became involved in coordinating the Laurel election process, there have been no formal complaints brought to the town from any residents who have been removed from the list of registered voters. She said Gootee's is the first she is aware of.

Smith forwarded Gootee's letter to the full Mayor and Council, but received no feedback from anyone suggesting the issue be brought up for discussion or reviewed.

Letters are sent out in early to mid-January notifying residents that they have not voted in the previous two elections and they will need to re-register. "The letters are sent out early enough time to allow the opportunity for the resident to register for the municipal election," Smith said. She went on to say that this year there were 122 voters, like the Gootees, who were notified of the need to re-register. Smith could not say how many of those did re-register. The list of registered voters in Laurel is small compared to the actual number of residents.

While there are roughly 15,500 people residing in the Laurel zip code of 19956, about 3,800 reside in the corporate limits of the town.

The current list of registered voters in Laurel is 269. Smith said she cannot say how many of those 3,800 Laurel residents are eligible to vote, but historically she has found that the list of registered voters amounts to only about 10 percent of the town's population.

As for Gootee she cannot say how others may feel about the voter registration rule, but for her and her husband, unless the Charter changes they have no intention of ever participating in the Laurel municipal election process. "I am still angry over this," she said. "I have no intention of voting in Laurel again."

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