CENTREVILLE — The Maryland State Board of Elections officially dismissed Josh Shonts’ complaint against the Kent County Board of Elections in a written decision Feb. 5, but suggested the town could easily remedy the question of Shonts’ election to the council itself.
Shonts filed the administrative complaint on the advice of the state board after it refused his request to erase the change of his voter registration to Kent County. Shonts never asked the change be made; it was initiated automatically through the Electronic Registration Information Center when he changed his address.
Due to personal reasons, he said he filed an address change to forward mail to his father’s address in July without knowing it would also change his voter registration. He did not learn his registration had changed until he went to vote in the Oct. 7, 2019, Centreville Town Council election and was told he was no longer a registered voter in Queen Anne’s County.
Shonts received 374 votes to former councilman George “Smokey” Sigler’s 288, but town attorney Sharon Van Emburgh announced the evening of the election, “A winner cannot be named at this time as they are listed as a registered voter in another county.”
According to town charter, a council member shall be at least 25 years of age, have lived in the town for at least two years immediately preceding their election and be a registered voter of the town for at least six months preceding the election.
During the town council’s Oct. 17 session, Council President Jim Beauchamp made a motion to accept Shonts to the council with the condition the board of elections was able to correct the information and was seconded by Vice President Jeff Morgan. The vote was 2-1, with Councilman Tim McCluskey dissenting. At that point, Shonts had already transferred his registration back to Queen Anne’s County.
State Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone designated Amanda S. La Forge hearing officer for the complaint.
In her conclusion Feb. 5, La Forge wrote: “Having reviewed the evidence before me, I determine that the Kent County Board acted properly at all times with respect to Mr. Shonts’s voter registration activity. As Mr. Shonts himself testified, and as I have concluded based on the evidence presented, the Kent County Board appropriately followed all the usual and customary practices and procedures regarding the receipt of Mr. Shonts’s NCOA (National Change of Address) data through ERIC.”
She went on to write, “The novel issue presented by Mr. Shonts, specifically his inability to be sworn in as a duly elected member of the Centreville Town Council due to the aforementioned ‘gap’ in his voter registration, is unfortunately beyond the scope of this administrative complaint process, which is simply not designed to offer the relief he seeks.”
La Forge noted Maryland courts recognize the terms reside or resided as meaning one’s domicile.
“It is my view that the finding of Mr. Shonts’s intent to be domiciled in Queen Anne’s County should outweigh the prospect of summarily invalidating the votes of 374 town residents who exercised their basic constitutional right by voting for him, but that determination is beyond the purview of this proceeding,” she wrote.
Shonts testified his domicile remained in Queen Anne’s County the entire time in question.
In a footnote, La Forge suggests, as an example, the council could choose to interpret the requirement of being a registered voter for six months preceding the election as “not necessarily the six months immediately preceding the election.”
In a phone interview, Shonts said he never had a problem with the Kent County Board of Elections; his problem was with the system, which “works a little too well.” He said there’s nothing on the change of address card to warn people changing their address will trigger a change in their voter registration. Had he known, Shonts said, he would have forwarded his mail to his business address in Centreville instead of to his father’s house, so the problem could have been avoided.
“The next step for me is when do I get sworn in,” Shonts said. “I’ve done everything they’ve asked of me.”
He said town residents are angry about the situation and tired of it being dragged out.
“They voted for a candidate they haven’t got. They voted for a resolution they haven’t got. Zero things have happed. People are upset,” Shonts said.
Town Councilman Tim McCluskey said the council hasn’t met since the disposition of the hearing. He said he expects the council will discuss it at the next meeting on Feb. 20 and he would reserve comment until after that.
Neither Council President Jim Beauchamp nor Council Vice President Jeff Morgan responded to requests for comment.