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Hancock looks to pen election laws

February 04, 2006|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

Keeping the spouses of candidates out of Town Hall, allowing residents to vote in open elections, and determining just what laws and regulations the town follows were just a handful of ideas residents and officials in Hancock are looking at to smooth out some of the rough edges of the town's prior elections.

"We need rules so we can have an orderly (election) and not have tempers flying," Hancock Mayor Daniel A. Murphy said. "History's full of elections that have been less than perfect, but hopefully we can get back on track."

The town held an election reform workshop Feb. 1, attended by members of the council, the town's election board and a handful of residents, to address some of the issues that have come up in prior elections.

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Several in attendance appeared surprised to learn that many of the regulations the town has been following, such as preventing candidates from campaigning within 100 feet of Town Hall while elections are taking place, are not actually regulations established by Hancock.

While the town's charter speaks to some issues, Election Board Supervisor Lowell Younker said the majority of the regulations the town has been following, including the 100-foot restriction, come from state election laws.

"Where is it written that Hancock follows the state law?" Murphy asked.

Nowhere, Younker said.

Murphy said the town should look into amending its charter to specify it follows state election laws.

The town is also looking into establishing a form of open elections, a measure Younker said should reduce the number of absentee ballots the election board receives and processes. He said many residents file absentee ballots because they will be out of town on Election Day but often have time available at some point before then to vote.

Town Manager David Smith said he believes the practice removes some of the responsibility residents should take in exercising their right to vote, but Murphy suggested Younker examine what is involved in running open elections and present his findings at a future workshop.

"You want to permit a certain amount of responsibility, too," Smith said. "Voting is a responsibility. You've got to make some commitments yourself to go out there and do something."

Residents also raised questions about letting the spouses of candidates linger outside the voting booths at Town Hall and whether residents should be permitted to keep election signs up after Election Day.

Murphy said he expects to schedule another workshop within the next month.

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