Delawareans have vote-by-mail choice this year

Absentee ballots allowed during COVID-19 crisis but will expire by 2021
July 1, 2020

Gov. John Carney on July 1 signed into law a bill allowing Delawareans to vote by mail in the 2020 primary, general and special elections. House Bill 346 makes voting by mail an alternative to in-person voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and establishes procedures for voting by mail which mirror the procedures for absentee voting. Voting by mail does not replace in-person voting, which will be available for those not voting by absentee or mail ballot, the bill states.

“My position on this issue has been simple and consistent. We should make it easier – not harder – for all Delawareans to exercise their fundamental right to vote and participate in our democratic process,” Carney said. “That’s especially important this year as our state and country continue to grapple with the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This legislation will make sure that Delawareans can fairly and securely cast their ballots, and have their voices heard.”

The bill passed along party lines June 18 in the House 25-13 with two not voting and one absent. It passed the Senate June 25 by an 18-3 vote. Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, Sen. Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville, and Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover South, all voted no.

Rep. Bryan Shupe, R-Milford, said he is in favor of extending absentee voting, but he voted no because of the $829,000 price tag for mailing affidavits to all registered voters.

“The list of over 700,000 people is very outdated,” Shupe said. “I know this by personal experience – by receiving voter registration cards two years ago from previous owners of the house I lived in at the time, [and] sending out literature using those voter rolls and receiving multiple phone calls from residents that told me that the registered voter had passed away years before.”

For the presidential primary, Shupe said, the first round of affidavits was mailed to more than 500,000 voters, and about 55,000 were sent back to the Department of Elections as undeliverable.

Even though the $829,000 is federal money for COVID-19 expenses, Shupe said, the money could be used elsewhere, and it would have cost nothing to add a one-line item on this year's absentee ballot applications.

On the opposite side of the argument, Mike Brickner, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware, said Delaware should have a permanent no-fault provision to vote by absentee ballot since the bill is set to expire Jan. 12, 2021.

“We see this as an opportunity for Delaware to join the other 34 states that have no-fault absentee ballots,” Brickner said. “Voters would be able to request the ballot and have it come to their home.”

A bill that would have allowed Delawareans to vote by mail was introduced in 2019, but only made it out of committee. It will sunset after the end of this year's two-year session.

Brickner said he supports the passage of House Bill 346, but more is needed.

“HB 346 is a temporary fix for the 2020 elections, and then it will sunset,” he said. “It doesn't address the elections after that. Vote by mail is such a convenient, wonderful thing for voters to be able to have, so we want Delaware voters to have that not just for this year, but for years to come.”


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