The ability of Delawareans to vote by mail — now blocked after Republicans in the General Assembly withdrew their support for an amendment to the state constitution — could be restored as legislators explore other ways to expand voting access.
The fresh thinking distinguishes between absentee voting — strictly limited by the constitution — and mail-in voting, which the legislature could approve under its ordinary power to select the methods by which ballots are cast.
An effort to amend the absentee-voting clause of the constitution failed in June, although it could still be revived. Republicans, who broadly supported the amendment the first time it came up in 2019, turned against it as then-President Donald Trump railed against mail-in ballots and states such as Georgia and Texas moved to clamp down on voting access.
“As a working mother of two young children, I can tell you first hand that it can be challenging to make time to vote on election day,” said state Senator Kyle Evans Gay, D-Brandywine Hundred. “Legally, I think there are several options to enable vote-by-mail, and I look forward to working with stakeholders to continue to modernize our voting procedures and ensure that polls are accessible to all Delawareans.”
Gay, along with other members of the General Assembly and U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, will speak in an online webinar about voting rights this Monday evening, Nov. 8. Register here for the webinar, organized by ACLU of Delaware and the Delaware Voting Rights Coalition.
The new legislative approach to vote-by-mail has a key advantage: it could be adopted with a simple majority vote, rather than the two-thirds supermajority — in two consecutive General Assemblies — required to amend the constitution. Democrats have solid majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, but they need a couple of Republican votes to reach two-thirds in the House of Representatives. This year, when the absentee-voting amendment came up for a second time after passing in 2019, it received zero Republican votes.
Vote-by-mail was approved only for 2020 by a majority vote of both houses after Gov. John Carney declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the emergency now expired, vote-by-mail won’t be available in coming elections unless the legislature acts.
Delaware’s constitution limits absentee voting to people who are sick, disabled, on vacation or away from home due to work or military service. Voters must file a sworn affidavit before election day stating their reason for being unable to get to their polling place. Democrats still want to try again to pass HB 75, the constitutional amendment that would enable the legislature to adopt so-called no-excuse absentee voting, as is available in most other states.
However, with 130,000 Delawareans having mailed their ballots under the emergency law in 2020, there is a sense of urgency to keep vote-by-mail available — amendment or no amendment.
“Democracy works best when we make it as easy as possible for people to participate in the electoral process,” Gay said. “During the pandemic, voters saw how convenient, simple, safe and secure vote-by-mail can be.”
“All of our options to make vote-by-mail happen ought to be considered,” said Sen. Tizzy Lockman, D-Wilmington.
Register for Monday’s webinar to learn more about voting rights in Delaware, including the introduction of ten days of early voting in 2022.