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Delaware weighs voting rights for corporations

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(The Center Square) — The business-friendly state of Delaware is wrestling with the thorny issue of whether corporations should be allowed to vote in communities where they may have a financial stake in local politics and policymaking.

A proposal, which passed the House of Representatives on a 35-6 vote last week, would have given legislative approval to a request by the town of Seaford to update its charter by authorizing business entities, such as corporations and limited liability companies, to vote in local elections.

While the measure failed to pass the Senate before the end of the legislative session, lawmakers may revisit the controversial issue in January, and debate on the bill suggests it could become a flashpoint in the next legislative session.

Seaford, Delaware’s seventh largest municipality, already allows non-resident property owners to vote in local elections, but not “artificial” entities such as corporations.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Danny Short, D-Seaford, argues that businesses have made major financial investments in his community and deserve a say in policymaking.

“They have worked with city officials and made huge commitments to strengthen the community, build opportunities, and create jobs,” Short, a former Seaford mayor, said in a statement. “It is not unreasonable for each of these organizations to want to participate in the elections where they are heavily invested and are paying significant taxes.”

House Republican lawmakers staged a walk-out during a debate on Delaware’s proposed $1.4 billion capital budget to force the passage of this bill.

Short and Seaford town officials, who approved a local ordinance to authorize the changes, have pointed out that several Delaware communities already allow nonresidents and businesses to vote in municipal elections.

Currently, at least 15 municipalities allow non-resident property owners to vote in local elections, many allowing voting by corporations, trusts and limited liability companies, according to the Delaware League of Local Governments.

Delaware is home to more than 1.8 million corporations, LLCs and other business entities, outnumbering residents by nearly two-to-one, according to state records.

At least 11 states allow nonresidents to vote in municipal or special elections, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

But the Delaware proposal has drawn strong condemnation from good government and voting access groups, who argue it would erode the rights of “human” voters.

“Corporations have no place in our elections — full stop,” Claire Snyder-Hall, executive director of Common Cause Delaware, said in a statement. “In a state with more registered businesses than residents, this bill gives wealthy outsiders the power to override the actual people of Seaford.”

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