MIDDLETOWN, Md (WDVM) — In an unprecedented process that spanned more than three weeks, Middletown finished its local elections on Monday.
Burgess John Miller will continue on with a fifth term after running unopposed.
Incumbent Commissioner Chris Goodman and new candidate in the running, Jean LaPadula, gained the two open commissioner seats.
Goodman lead the election with 668 votes, followed by LaPadula with 589 votes. Incumbent Commissioner seeking re-election, Tom Catania, followed with 558 votes.
“The election is really a social event. I mean a lot of people come in, the polls are open all day, people get to see their neighbors and talk to each other. So, this is really very, very different,” explained town administrator, Drew Bowen.
At the end of March and amid the COVID-19 outbreak, town officials took emergency actions to continue forward with the election for two open commissioner seats and an uncontested Burgess race through absentee ballots.
Middletown generated its greatest turnout on record, though it didn’t appear that way without the crowds of voters lined up to cast their ballots in-person.
“In most elections, unless it’s a highly contested election, we usually don’t get more than 300 to 400 votes out of a potential 3,500 [registered] voters. But now, we’re over 1,000 [absentee ballots],” Bowen explained.
And with about 1,104 envelopes either mailed in or dropped out to town hall over the last three weeks, a team of five election judges are geared up to count them all by hand.
“We all came in with our masks on and we have gloves, but they have gloves provided and they’ve very nicely positioned the tables so we can be six feet apart,” explained election judge, Judy.
Judy, who did not wish to provide her full name, has volunteered as an election judge in at least three other elections, but says this one gave her pause.
“With the situation and health issues, there’s always that thought: Should I do it, Should [I not] do it?’ Judy explained, “Somebody’s got to do it.”
In addition to protective gear, officials took the precaution of isolating all ballots for 72-hours over the weekend before being handled.
Election judges opened every envelope looking for both a ballot and oath.
Each oath was validated against registration records before being counted. Bowen explains that according to the town’s charter, an absentee ballot can not be counted without an oath.
“I hope for future elections we get the same kind of turnout, but that we can certainly have a normal election,” Bowen said.
After elections results were read during the commissioner’s virtual meeting Monday night, Catania thanked residents and board members for their support over the last four years of his term.
LaPadula admits “it was definitely harder to reach people” during Maryland’s stay at home order. She explains social media was the biggest factor in connecting with voters and garnering support.