Ocean City has a combined real estate value of $11.3 billion (the fourth most valuable town in the state), and about 70 percent of the town’s property owners live and vote somewhere else.
Voting is left to about 8,304 registered voters (as of the Nov. 4 election) in a town with a year-round population of 11,701.
A private citizens group is deciding if it wants to get involved in advocating for the right of nonresident property owners to vote.
Fairness in Taxes, an Ocean City community group, polled its membership of more than 880 on the issue. The group asked members if they thought anybody with 50 percent ownership of an Ocean City property who pays a least $1,000 annually in property taxes should be able to vote in municipal elections.
Of the 131 surveys returned, about 85 percent said they support the right of non-resident voters to vote, according to FIT member Bill Hartranft. About 367 e-mail surveys were successfully delivered, and of the 93 e-mail responses, 79 favored non-resident voting rights and 14 opposed. A similar 85 percent favored non-resident voting in the 38 surveys returned by traditional mail.
The results did not indicate how many responses came from year-round resident and how many from second homeowners.
The group also hopes to invite the mayor of Rehoboth Beach, Del., to speak at a FIT meeting. Nonresident owners listed on property deeds have the right to vote in Rehoboth and some of its neighboring shore towns in Delaware.
“We’re in an education mode,” said FIT board member Jim Tweed, who first raised the issue to the group.
Even if the group decides it wants to push for non-resident voting rights, the task may be monumental. It would require an amendment to the state constitution with the prerequisite support from a coalition much larger than a single community group from Ocean City.
After its learning process, FIT ultimately will have to decide if it wants to pursue such a campaign or let it die, FIT President Michael Hinchman told the membership at a meeting Friday at the Ocean City Free Public Library.
Issues surrounding such a constitutional amendment range from the practical (preventing voter fraud) to the theoretical (resident and nonresident voters share a stake in many, but not all, decisions made at a municipal level).