Thursday, June 29, 2023 by Kevin Hughes
Delaware has built a reputation for being business-friendly, with the number of companies there exceeding the number of people by almost two to one. Now, one city in the First State wants to grant businesses the right to vote in local elections.
The city of Seaford, which has a population of about 8,000, amended its charter in April to permit businesses to vote in local elections. In a 3-2 vote, the Seaford City Council agreed to permit the inclusion of business entities in the city’s voter rolls. Limited liability companies (LLCs), corporations, trusts and partnerships would be allowed to cast their ballots under the amended charter.
Seaford Mayor David Genshaw broke the tie with his vote on April 11, as he was also an ardent supporter of the plan. He defended the amendment in an interview with local station WRDE 31: “These are folks that have fully invested in their community with the money, with their time, with their sweat. We want them to have a voice if they choose to take it.”
Under the amendment, corporate entities must register as voters with City Hall and add a record of their beneficial owners. City officials are then expected to cross-check these lists with resident voter rolls to avoid double voting. According to Delaware Online, Seaford hosts 234 business entities including LLCs, trusts and corporations.
With the April 11 vote, Seaford joined numerous towns in Delaware that already permit absentee property owners – those owning a property there but do not reside in it – to vote on certain issues such as taxes. However, the new charter need to be endorsed and voted upon by both chambers of the Delaware General Assembly. It also needs the signature of Delaware Gov. John Carney before it can take effect.
According to officials, the amendment also aims to solve low voter turnout in multiple elections. A report by Delaware Online recounted that one election held in April only collected 340 votes.
The proposed amendment has renewed a debate over how much power businesses should have in local government. Civic interest groups, which think that businesses already have unreasonable influence over politics, have expressed strong opposition.
Jose Santos, a former member of the Seaford City Council, challenged the “rushed” charter change. Claire Snyder-Hall, the executive director of watchdog group Common Cause Delaware (CCD), shared the same sentiment. (Related: Election heroes are stopping fraudulent voting… Right now.)
“It was very shocking to see this attempt to have artificial entities have voting rights. We’re seeing voter suppression all over the county, and this is the flip side. It’s not saying the residents of Seaford can’t vote, but it’s diluting their votes by allowing nonresidents to vote,” she said.
Snyder-Hall stressed that while the proposal outlaws double voting for human residents of Seaford, it permits double voting for out-of-town business owners. She remarked: “If you’re a snowbird, you don’t get to vote twice — once in Florida and once in Delaware.”
According to CCD, other Delaware towns like Fenwick Island, Henlopen Acres and Dagsboro already permit corporations to vote. However, a 2019 instance in the town of Newark showed the dangers of such a proposal. A single property manager who handled numerous LLCs voted 31 times in a town referendum – prompting Newark to revise its rules.
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