Two city council seats are up for grabs in Newark’s municipal election on Tuesday.
Polls in Districts 3 and 5 will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., but officials anticipate that by the time the polling place doors open, the majority of votes will have already been cast.
More than 1,100 voters requested absentee ballots, and 622 ballots have been mailed in as of July 15.
“This is my 10th election with the city, and this one has been unique in the amount of absentee participation,” City Secretary Renee Bensley said. “Even when we had the 2013 election for mayor as a special election, which was the week of Thanksgiving, we only had about 125 or 150 absentee ballots. We’ve already got four times that.”
Since the pandemic began, Bensley and her staff have been encouraging Newarkers to vote absentee rather than in person in order to avoid possible exposure to coronavirus at a polling place.
In March, prior to the original election date of April 14, they took the unusual step of proactively mailing absentee ballot affidavits to every registered voter in the two contested districts – a total of approximately 6,000 people. After the election was rescheduled, they sent out a second application to voters who had not yet sent one in.
“My goal is to have as many people vote as have voted in past elections or more, with as few of them coming through a polling place as possible,” Bensley explained last month.
She said last week that it appears the city is well on its way to meeting that goal. If everyone who requested a ballot mails it in, that would surpass the total number of votes cast in 2018 before in-person voting even begins.
Despite the push for absentee voting, the city will have its usual number of polling places open on Tuesday– one for each of the two districts that have a contested race.
The District 3 polling place has been moved from the Aetna fire station to West Park Place Elementary School due to coronavirus contamination concerns. District 5 residents will vote at the First Presbyterian Church of Newark, as usual.
Poll workers will be provided with face masks, face shields, gloves and hand sanitizer. Between each voter, the voting machines will be sanitized with alcohol pads. Voters will each use a different pen to sign in and will be told to take the pen with them when they leave.
Bensley said based on the number of absentee ballots, she would generally expect few voters to show up in person. However, she noted that some other municipalities have seen larger-than-expected in-person turnout because sending absentee applications raised wider awareness of the election, and some of those people decided to vote in person.
She said the polling places will be fully staffed, but warned that extra time will be needed to disinfect the machines. Also complicating matters is the fact this is the first time the state’s new voting machines have been used in a Newark election.
She asked voters to be patient with poll workers and encouraged them to thank the workers who are braving the pandemic to work the election.
“If something doesn’t go exactly the way they may be used to or if it takes a little longer because we have to sanitize the machines, I would just hope that folks would be appreciative of the fact these people are working hard to make sure they can exercise their right to vote,” Bensley said. “Have some patience and kindness. We’re all in this together and we’re all working hard to make sure everybody gets to exercise their right to vote.”
Absentee ballots can be dropped off at city hall until 8 p.m. Tuesday, and election workers will begin counting absentee ballots at 5 p.m. Bensley said she expects to have election results Tuesday night, though they may be released later than usual.
In District 3, newcomers Jay Bancroft and Anthony Sinibaldi are vying for the seat that will be vacated by incumbent Jen Wallace, who is not seeking a third term. District 3 covers the southwest part of Newark and includes Devon, Binns, Arbour Park, Barksdale Estates, College Park, Newark Preserve, Abbotsford, Twin Lakes and surrounding neighborhoods.
Last week, Wallace endorsed Bancroft.
“I believe that Dr. Bancroft’s values are a better match for mine and yours,” Wallace wrote in a message to constituents. “Additionally, his education and background as a scientist will prove beneficial in making the kind of thoughtful, data-driven decisions that I have tried to make on your behalf. He was also involved in the power plant movement, which I think speaks to his willingness to defend his neighbors and community. I think he will be more committed to prioritizing open space, questioning of over development, and helping Newark become more sustainable.”
In District 5, newcomer Brian K. Anderson is challenging incumbent Jason Lawhorn, who is seeking a second term. District 5 is located in the northwest part of the city and includes Christianstead, West Branch, Fairfield, Fairfield Crest, Terry Manor, most of New London Road and surrounding areas.
Meanwhile, newcomer Travis McDermott is unopposed for the District 6 seat and will be declared the winner. He will replace Stu Markham, who is retiring after 14 years on council. District 6 encompasses the northern part of Newark, including neighborhoods off Cleveland Avenue, Paper Mill Road and Old Paper Mill Road.
The University of Delaware will hold classes entirely online for most students this semester, officials announced Wednesday.
The decision is a dramatic reversal for the university, which just a month ago said it was committed to bringing students back to campus and employing a hybrid model in which many classes alternated each week between in-person and online sessions.
“As you may be aware, new and concerning developments have surfaced pertaining to COVID-19 resurgence at local, national and global levels,” UD President Dennis Assanis wrote in a letter to students. “In the context of these recent developments, and given our commitment to the health and safety of the UD community, we feel it is necessary to shift our plan until conditions improve.”
The university will continue to evaluate conditions before deciding what to do about the spring semester.
“This latest development certainly does not reflect how we would like to begin a new academic year, with all Blue Hens back on campus,” he said. “To this end, I pledge to you that we will seize the earliest opportunity to fully return to campus as soon as conditions permit in the 2020-21 academic year, but we must do this thoughtfully and responsibly. I am very optimistic that we will emerge stronger than ever by taking decisive measures now to ensure that UD will thrive for years to come.”
Assanis said all classes will be delivered online except for a few programs that rely on in-person instruction. Those include students taking nursing practice and certain engineering labs, animal handling courses, phlebotomy practicum experiences and one-to-one music instruction.
Dorms will be limited to those students, as well as international students, students in field placements or clinical rotations and students who require housing due to hardship. All dorm rooms will be limited to single occupancy.
Housing contracts will be deferred to the spring, or students can cancel them without penalty.
UD spokeswoman Andrea Boyle Tippett said approximately 3,000 students meet the criteria to stay in the dorms. That equates to 40 percent occupancy if all those who qualify decide to stay in the dorms.
Students who reside off-campus will still have access to campus facilities like the library, gym and student centers, she said.
“We know many of our students have signed year-long leases and have already moved into or plan to occupy their off-campus housing,” Tippett said. “We will continue to communicate with all students about the measures they should be taking as members of the UD and Newark community to help keep everyone healthy.”
UD will test students and faculty for COVID-19 as they come to campus, and they will be required to complete a daily electronic health-screening questionnaire.
“We are planning on a variety of testing approaches, including commercial testing, as well as in-house testing. COVID-19 testing methodology is rapidly evolving, and the university will base its approach on the accuracy of testing methodology, the time required for obtaining test results, and the expected incidence of positive cases in the population,” Assanis said.
Tuition will remain the same — $12,730 for in-state students and $34,160 for out-of-state students – but students will have the opportunity to take extra credits this fall or next summer for free. Student fees will be adjusted based on the services the university will be able to provide.
Many students and parents took to social media to ask why tuition isn't being reduced since classes will be held online. In a statement posted on its website, the university argued that students are actually getting a bargain.
"In fact, the cost for online instruction is actually higher, reflecting the expense of computer equipment, software, instructional technology expertise and other needs. UD has invested significantly in education technology over the summer to ensure that students can continue their academic progress and graduate on time; those higher costs are not being passed on to students," the statement read.
“You have chosen to be part of the University of Delaware community because it is an institution like no other – one that is characterized by a dynamic balance of enriching academics along with a culture of inspiration and growth,” Assanis told students. “I understand that not being together right now feels disruptive to that balance, displacing the connected experience we all share on campus. But, be assured, we will get there. Today, we reinforce our commitment to education, to staying focused on our goals for personal and academic progress, and to harnessing the strength of our talent and creativity to inspire a safe and healthy return to campus.”
The university has previously said it lost more than $50 million due to the pandemic this year and was forecasting a FY 2021 loss in excess of $40 million. This would include a $13 million loss due to falling 700 students short of the freshman class target for the upcoming school year, $10 million in lost revenue due to the decline in returning students, $10-$15 million in additional financial aid and $10-$15 million in lost operating gift revenue. It’s not yet clear how this week’s decision will affect that forecast.
The decision will also have ramifications for local restaurants and other businesses, many of whom rely on the influx of student customers when UD is in session.
In addition, it will have an impact on the city of Newark’s finances. City officials are forecasting the city will lose $14 million in revenue this year, mostly from a reduction in utility sales. However, that prediction counted on students returning this fall. With fewer students around, electricity demand from UD and off-campus apartment complexes will decrease, likely deepening the city’s losses.