Delaware lawmakers reject mail voting

In the previous state election, about 56,000 Delawareans used early voting, and nearly 21,000 used absentee ballots, according to state election data.

Published: June 17, 2024 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

(The Center Square) — The push to expand voting options in Delaware has been dealt a blow after the state House of Representatives failed to pass a bill to authorize no-excuse absentee voting and early voting.

The House rejected the proposed constitutional amendment, approved by the state Senate last year, by a 25-10 vote, with several Republican lawmakers not voting on the measure. If approved, it would have updated the state Constitution to allow mail balloting and in-person early voting for 10 days before a general, primary, or special election.

The bill's primary sponsors, state Rep. Sherae’a “Rae” Moore, D-Middleton, and Sen. Darius Brown, D-New Castle, said the House's rejection of the plan is "deeply disappointing" for them and "thousands of Delawareans who face significant barriers getting to the polls on Election Day." The proposal was filed in response to a recent Delaware court ruling striking down the state's early and mail voting laws.

"For the past several months, we have negotiated in good faith with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, striving to find common ground and ensure that every eligible Delawarean has the opportunity to vote," they said in a statement. "This should not be a political issue."

In the previous state election, about 56,000 Delawareans used early voting, and nearly 21,000 used absentee ballots, according to state election data.

Delaware Superior Court judge Mark Connor issued a ruling in February saying the state Constitution sets only one day for general elections, which conflicts with the state's early voting statute, allowing at least 10 days of early balloting. He said the Legislature exceeded its authority by approving the expanded mail and early voting law.

The decision followed a 2022 ruling by the state Supreme Court, which held that the state's vote-by-mail statute "impermissibly" expanded categories of absentee voters in Delaware’s Constitution.

Delaware's Constitution allows "absentee" voting if a person cannot go to the polls on Election Day because of his or her public service, business or occupation because of sickness or physical disability, vacation, or if they claim religious objections.

A lawsuit filed by plaintiffs Michael Mennella and Delaware Senate Republican minority leader Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, had challenged the constitutionality of early and absentee voting laws.

Republican lawmakers blasted last week's House vote on the bill as "political theater," alleging that Democrats knew it wouldn't pass but chose to "politicize an issue they hope to capitalize on in this fall's general election."

"They were well aware that they did not have the votes for this to pass," House Minority Whip Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, Wyoming, said in a statement. "We have communicated that to them repeatedly. Yet they brought this to the floor for a vote, knowing it would fail, issuing a press release immediately afterward."

Yearick said he filed a constitutional amendment to ensure early in-person voting, but it hasn't been taken up by the Democratic-controlled House Administration Committee. He said Republicans want to wait until the Delaware Supreme Court issues a ruling in the legal challenge over early and mail voting. In the interim, he said the state allows voters to cast absentee ballots under certain circumstances.

"This option is open to virtually anyone who doubts they'll able to get to their polling place on Election Day, including those who suspect they may be working," he said. "To claim otherwise is just blatantly false."

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