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Why the Delaware House of Representatives rejected the expansion of mail-in and early voting

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Delaware lawmakers on Thursday rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have expanded mail-in and early voting in the First State.

Senate Bill 3, passed by the state Senate last year, was defeated in the state House of Representatives by a vote of 25 to 10. Six Republican lawmakers did not vote on the bill, which would allow no-reason mail-in voting in Delaware.

A House amendment would have added additional constitutional protections to early voting and required states to offer in-person early voting ten days before a general election, primary, or special election, including the weekend before Election Day.

The amendment was proposed because recent court decisions had scuttled efforts to expand early voting and mail-in voting, which state lawmakers had initially pushed through legislative changes.

The Delaware Constitution provides detailed instructions on how elections are to be conducted and takes precedence over any changes to state law.

House Minority Whip Lyndon Yearick said Republicans could not support the measure for several reasons, including combining mail-in and early voting and waiting for a decision from the Delaware Supreme Court. Yearick introduced a constitutional amendment to ensure early in-person voting, but it has not yet been taken up by the House Administration Committee.

“We want the court's decision to be made first,” he said. “That could make this point moot.”

DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT: Delaware lawmakers explore options after court throws out early and mail-in voting

The bill was the first step in a constitutional amendment process aimed at removing from the state constitution all restrictions on when a person may vote by mail. It would have allowed the General Assembly to enact general laws “establishing the circumstances, rules and procedures for voting by mail,” according to a statement from Rep. Sherae'a “Rae” Moore and Sen. Darius Brown, who are sponsoring the bill.

“This result is deeply disappointing, not only for us, but for the thousands of Delawareans who must overcome significant obstacles to get to the polls on Election Day,” Moore and Brown said in a joint statement after Thursday's vote. “Over the past several months, we have negotiated in good faith with our colleagues across the aisle, striving to find common ground and ensure that every eligible Delawarean has the opportunity to cast their ballot.”

The initiators of the bill stated that in the last election cycle alone, more than 55,000 Delaware citizens took advantage of the opportunity to vote early.

“This should not be a political issue. Both mail-in voting and early voting have consistently been proven in Delaware to be safe and effective methods of increasing voter turnout and ensuring more voices are heard in our democratic process,” the lawmakers said. “Delawareans have the right to vote without undue hardship, whether through in-person early voting or secure and accessible mail-in voting without justification.”

House Republican Speaker Joseph Fulgham sharply criticized Democratic lawmakers for the statement issued after the vote, claiming that lawmakers knew they did not have the support needed to pass the bill but passed it anyway “with the sole purpose of issuing a boilerplate partisan press release.”

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“Democrats in the House and Senate have only themselves to blame for the failure of their previous early voting and permanent mail-in voting legislation,” Fulgham said. “They were repeatedly warned that their proposals violated the state constitution, but they passed them anyway, showing their usual disregard for our state's founding document.”

What regulations currently apply to postal voting?

Fulgham said if Delaware residents wanted to vote by mail, it would “still be legal, possible and easily accessible.”

The state constitution limits mail-in voting to those who:

  • You are a public employee of the United States or a state; you are a U.S. citizen temporarily residing outside the country; you are the spouse or dependent of such a person and are residing with or accompanying such person; you are absent from Delaware because of illness or injury while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • Are you a member of the U.S. Armed Forces or Merchant Marine, or are you a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and serving in the American Red Cross or the United Service Organizations?
  • Cares for a parent, spouse, or child living at home who requires ongoing care due to an illness, disability, or injury; works with students; or is an eligible individual who is incarcerated.
  • Are ill or physically disabled, whether temporarily or permanently.
  • Will be on vacation.
  • Are unable to vote at a particular time or on a particular day due to the beliefs or teachings of their religion.

Learn more about voting by mail in Delaware or request a mail-in ballot online.

What does this mean for future electoral reforms?

Because one of the bill's sponsors, Democratic Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, changed her vote to “no” before the final count, lawmakers now have the opportunity to bring Senate Bill 3 back up for a vote before the end of the legislative session.

PREVIOUS ELECTORAL REFORMS: Changes in election law are likely to increase voter turnout in Delaware

“Delaware residents have the right to vote without undue hardship, whether through in-person early voting or secure and accessible vote-by-mail without justification. No one should have to choose between a salary and the ability to vote, nor should they have to justify their method of voting,” Moore and Brown said in their statement. “We remain committed to ensuring that all residents can vote safely, whether through this amendment or other initiatives.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware expressed disappointment that the House of Representatives failed to pass “crucial and necessary reforms” to the state’s voting rights.

Representatives of the organization pledged to continue to advocate for expanded voting access in Delaware.

“Two-thirds of states already offer no-reason absentee voting, and only three other states in the country do not offer early in-person voting: Alabama, Mississippi and New Hampshire – states with a long history of voter disenfranchisement,” said Andrew Bernstein, Cozen Voting Rights Fellow at ACLU-DE, in a press release. “Delaware has become a tragic underdog in our country when it comes to protecting and expanding access to the ballot.”

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