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Newark’s municipal election postponed by governor’s mandate

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Newark’s city council election has been postponed due to a mandate by Gov. John Carney.

Newark’s municipal election is on hold until further notice in light of an order from Gov. John Carney, which canceled all elections through May 15.

The order, announced on Tuesday, also moves Delaware’s presidential primary to June 2 and school board elections to June 16.

The move is a blow to Newark officials, who were making plans to hold the April 14 council election by mail only.

“I am disappointed,” Mayor Jerry Clifton said. “What we were doing was workable.”

He believes voting by mail would have actually increased turnout.

“What we were doing in light of the situation was the gold standard,” he said. “We had a solid plan laid out.”

Last week, the city proactively mailed absentee ballot affidavits to the 6,000 registered voters in Districts 3 and 5 and strongly encouraged people to vote by mail. Officials also developed procedures to sanitize voting machines after each voter.

As the coronavirus outbreak worsened, officials proposed eliminating in-person voting and having all voters use absentee ballots. City council was planning to vote on an emergency ordinance allowing that to happen.

However, Carney’s order takes the option off the table. Clifton, who participated in a conference call with other mayors and a member of Carney’s staff, said the staffer offered no reason for why voting by mail could not be done.

“The governor understands the concerns from Mayor Clifton and other city officials,” Carney spokesman Jonathan Starkey said in response to an inquiry from the Newark Post. “Today’s announcement was really about having a statewide strategy to make sure all Delawareans can safely cast their ballots.”

Clifton said the city’s attorney is studying Carney’s order and the city’s charter to determine the next steps. However, he said it’s possible an election won’t be held until late summer.

“To give a date and start the process, we have to be absolutely sure we’re out of the woods with the virus,” Clifton said.

The terms of existing council members will be extended until the election is held and new council members are sworn in. That means that Councilman Stu Markham and Councilwoman Jen Wallace, who are both retiring this year, will be pressed into service for several more months.

The April 14 election was to include two contested races.

In District 3, newcomers Jay Bancroft and Anthony Sinibaldi are vying for the seat that will be vacated Wallace, who is not seeking a third term.

In District 5, newcomer Brian K. Anderson is challenging incumbent Jason Lawhorn, who is seeking a second term.

Meanwhile, newcomer Travis McDermott is unopposed for the District 6 seat and, under typical procedures, would be declared the winner on election night. He will replace Markham, who is retiring after 14 years on council.

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