Legislative Wrap Up

January 22, 2013
Constitutional amendment would expand absentee voting

Three Democrats – Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark South, and Rep. Dennis E. Williams, D-Talleyville – introduced legislation designed to increase participation in elections Jan. 17.

House Bill 20 would extend absentee voting to all eligible Delaware voters by removing requirements that limit who can vote absentee. Under current law, absentee voting is allowed only for residents who are physically unable to make it to their polling place on Election Day.

HB 20 is the first leg of a constitutional amendment. If this bill passes the General Assembly during this two-year session, an identical version must pass the 148th General Assembly, which begins in 2015.

“We teach our children that voting is a fundamental component of our democracy. This is an excellent way to live that principle – by increasing access to voting for all Delawareans,” Jaques said. “A single parent working two jobs doesn’t necessarily get Election Day off and might not be able to spend an hour waiting at the polls. Allowing any Delawarean to request an absentee ballot gives everyone an equal opportunity to have their voice heard.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 27 states and Washington, D.C., already have no-excuse absentee voting. Neighboring states New Jersey and Maryland are among those states. HB 20 awaits a hearing in the House Administration Committee.

Gov. Markell takes oath of office

Gov. Jack Markell and Lt. Gov. Matt Denn both took the oath of office to begin their second term Jan. 15. Family members, legislators, former governors and lieutenant governors, and community members attended an inaugural ceremony at Central Middle School in Dover.

"We are believers in the possibility of improvement and of progress," Markell said. "As our ancestors have done for us, so we must do for posterity: Enjoy the blessings that have been bestowed upon us, but multiply them in turn for those whose time is yet to come."

Supreme Court Chief Justice Myron Steele administered the governor’s oath and Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden administered the oath to Denn.

Denn said the state must work to help future generations succeed.  "When we recognize that the next Steve Jobs may be the 8-year-old son of a struggling single parent in Wilmington, waiting to be inspired by a great teacher;  that the next Sonia Sotomayor  may be a toddler in Seaford, whose life will be forever changed by the help she gets before she is even 3 years old; we have a moral obligation to our state’s children to help them achieve."

Bill would expedite felons’ ability to vote

Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South, introduced legislation Jan. 15 that would restore voting rights to eligible felons who have completed their sentences.  Delaware law currently forces felons to wait five years after being discharged to vote.

House Bill 10 is the second leg of a constitutional amendment, which requires approval of two-thirds majority by two consecutive General Assemblies. An identical version of the bill passed the Legislature in the last General Assembly. Keeley said it takes the average felons three to four years after being released from prison to discharge their sentences due to parole and additional fines.

The bill does not change exemptions preventing persons from regaining their voting rights. Persons convicted of crimes such as murder, manslaughter, felony sex offenses or crimes against public administration still would not be able to have their rights restored.