Preparing for Election Day

Aberdeen

Residency questions remain a concern

October 28, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun Reporter

Although a disqualified City Council candidate has dropped his lawsuit and the Nov. 6 election will proceed as scheduled, the dispute has raised broader questions about residency requirements for voters as well as candidates.

In a city where at least one recent election race was decided by a single-digit margin, a councilman said the incident highlighted the need to inspect voter registrations more closely.

"We need to purge the voter rolls and weed out the people that do not live in Aberdeen," said council President Michael Hiob, who is running for re-election. "Just because you own a business or a rental property, it does not give you the right to vote in our city elections. You should vote where you live. That's the way it should be."

Steven C. Johnson became the center of controversy after the city election board rejected his candidacy filing, citing public records indicating that the 46-year-old pharmacy owner's primary residence is in Perryman. Last week, he dropped his bid for a council seat but continues to assert that an Aberdeen address is his primary home.

Earlier this month, city residents received an anonymous letter urging them to petition to prevent Johnson and Arthur H. Helton Jr., a former state senator from Darlington, from voting in Aberdeen's election. Both are included on the city's list of 7,180 registered voters.

Helton, who has long been active in Harford County politics, is the vice president of the New Harford Democratic Club. After serving on the County Council and in the state Senate in the 1970s and 1980s, he has run unsuccessfully for various county offices and backed his wife, Ann Helton, in a failed bid for county executive last year.

Since 2002, Helton has changed his voter registration four times and has voted in Havre de Grace and Aberdeen municipal elections, according to county records.

In February, Helton changed his voter registration from Darlington to a Parke Street address in Aberdeen, where his business office is located. Helton, a commercial property manager, said the site is his primary residence and is outfitted with an apartment. On state property tax records, Helton's primary residence is listed as an 8-acre agricultural property in the 3000 block of Harmony Church Road in Darlington.

"Right now, I still have the farm," Helton said. "It would be similar to having someone having a condo in Ocean City."

James Massey, director of the Harford County Board of Elections, said the law is explicit that a voter must be registered at his residence, not at his business. But the county board takes voters at their word.

"We're not the address police," Massey said. "We have over 100,000 voters, and we try to keep accurate addresses. The place where you tell us you live, that's where your precinct is. That is part of your community to represent you."

Helton and Johnson voted in the 2005 Aberdeen election using the same address - a location in the 100 block of W. Bel Air Ave., the current site of Johnson's Family Pharmacy. Johnson rents the building from Helton.

"That building has a part of it that's an apartment," Helton said. "But we were not there at the same time, unless I didn't transfer my registration to the other location. We didn't live there together."

Up until three months ago, Johnson was registered to vote using the pharmacy address.

In September, the New Harford Democratic Club endorsed Johnson for Aberdeen City Council along with Bernard DeWitt, incumbent Councilwoman Ruth Elliott and mayoral candidate Michael E. Bennett.

When questioned why he voted in an Aberdeen election, Helton said, "I have never voted in an Aberdeen city election."

When asked why records from the county election board indicated that he had, Helton said, " I don't think so. I don't recall voting in the city election. ... Maybe I did."

Helton said he doesn't think he will vote in the Nov. 6 election, seeking to "avoid the controversy" and added, "This election is not going to be close."

Previous Aberdeen elections have been close, including the 2005 race, in which Elliott edged Jerry K. Hansen for a council seat by nine votes.

madison.park@baltsun.com

ABERDEEN VOTE

Three candidates are running for mayor and 10 are seeking one of four council seats. The winners will each serve a two-year term.

When:

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 6

Where:

Aberdeen Senior Center, 7 Franklin St.

Information:

410-272-2222.

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