Delaware politics: Sparse turnout likely in NCCo election Date, snow, political fatigue could keep many away from the polls today

By ADAM TAYLOR– The News Journal

Tom Kovach might be aided by traditional GOP strength in low turnouts.
Republicans and Democrats agree on one thing about today’s special election for New Castle County Council president — very few voters are likely to participate.

The date of the election wasn’t decided until last month and observers say many voters are still hung over from November’s contentious race for the U.S. Senate between Chris Coons and Christine O’Donnell.

The election also is on a Thursday in January, something voters aren’t used to. Snow could also keep people from making trips to the polls. And many voters aren’t even clear on the council president’s duties.

It could all add up to fewer than 5 percent of the county’s voters deciding who will replace Paul Clark, who vacated the seat in November when he automatically succeeded Coons as county executive.

“That’s about how many people I see showing up,” said John Flaherty, president of the Delaware Coalition of Open Government.

The major party candidates are Democrat Tim Sheldon and Republican Tom Kovach. Libertarian James Christina and Jeffrey Brown of the Blue Enigma Party also are on the ballot. Thewinner will serve the final two years of Clark’s term and earn $45,604 a year.

“It’s been an incredible battle to make people aware that there is an election,” Kovach said. “It’s probably one of the most important elections in recent memory that not many people know about.”

Sheldon could not be reached Wednesday.

The main issues have been which candidate will be able to lead the council in the upcoming budget season, as well as who will be able to monitor potential conflicts in Clark’s and his wife’s dealings with the county government. Pam Scott is a sought-after land-use attorney in the county.

Just more than 5 percent of voters participated in the last special election in the county, when Lisa Diller won the 5th District council seat in February 2009, said Howard Sholl, deputy director of the Delaware Department of Elections for New Castle County.

Expected to be ‘grim’

“Turnout for this one should be just as grim,” Diller said. “Whichever candidate gets out the voters in areas where they are the most popular will probably win it.”

Coincidentally, the other recent special election in the county involved Kovach.

He won a seat to the state Legislature in December 2008 in a district that had more Democrats than Republicans.

Eighteen percent of voters turned out in that race, Sholl said.

Kovach faces the same uphill challenge today. Countywide, there are 196,665 Democrats, 101,895 Republicans and 93,094 other registered voters.

Not surprisingly, leaders from each party say they are best equipped to get out the vote.

State Democratic Chairman John Daniello said the registration edge will help Sheldon, as will his union ties. Sheldon manages pension funds for a bricklayers union in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

“The snow’s not helping, but other than that we’ve got everything going for us and I think we’ve done everything we can to let people know about the race,” Daniello said. “It will be a cold winter day and it’s going to be the faithful who come out.”

County Republican Chairman Michael Fleming said die-hard GOP followers can overcome the registration deficit.

“Our party has voters who are particularly well-informed and passionate about issues,” he said. “Also, the Democrats control the council and there’s a dissatisfaction with the status quo.”

Delaware lobbyist Rhett Ruggerio, a Democrat who ran two of Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker’s campaigns, said common political wisdom is that Republicans do better in special elections.

“The lower turnout favors them, because for some reason Republicans tend to pay closer attention in more obscure races,” Ruggerio said.

Two county councilmen who often disagree have similar assessments.

“I’ve been amazed at the total lack of knowledge that there is an important election this week,” Bob Weiner said.

Added George Smiley: “I think there’s an awareness, but a lot of people just aren’t going to bother voting, which is kind of scary.”

The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Voters go to their usual polling locations, with two exceptions, both in Wilmington.

Those who usually vote at the Latin American Community Center will vote at Los Jardines at Fifth and Jackson streets.

Those who usually vote at the Claymore Senior Center at 504 S. Clayton St. will park in the same lot, but vote in an adjacent apartment building, Sholl said.

Anyone with problems should call the Elections Department at 577-3464.

Second election possible

The election could cost up to $500,000, county records show.

If Sheldon wins, it will trigger another special election to fill his 9th District seat.

The expense has led Flaherty to think there has to be a better way to fill unexpired terms of officeholders.

“For what it’s costing, I think we’d be better off making an appointment or even leaving the seat vacant for two years,” he said.

Contact Adam Taylor at 324-2787 or