Last October, the Delaware Call submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Delaware Department of Elections. We wanted to find out whether, as some Republican members of the General Assembly were claiming, our state’s voter rolls were laden with tens of thousands of bad addresses.
In 2020, due the pandemic emergency, the General Assembly passed HB 346, which temporarily allowed Delawareans to vote by mail. The Department of Elections then mailed out applications for vote-by-mail ballots to all eligible voters in the primary and general elections.
In our FOIA request, we asked: “How many applications to receive voting-by-mail ballots were sent out to registered voters during 2020 under the provisions of HB346? How many of those were returned to the Department of Elections because the voter had died or no longer resided at the address under which they were registered?”
It took several months, but last week the Department finally gave us an answer: just 2 percent, or 19,917, of the nearly 1 million applications mailed out were returned as undeliverable, far fewer than the claims of 50,000+ bad addresses that some GOP representatives have been bandying about and seemingly well within the normal range of expired address that would be expected as people move or die between elections.
Moreover, the Department spelled out for us exactly how it responds when a mail piece is returned as undeliverable, including the steps it takes to verify voters’ addresses and how it removes voters from the rolls when their addresses cannot be verified.
Recognizing the importance of this information to the ongoing debate in the General Assembly over whether to make mail-in or no-excuse absentee voting a permanent option for Delawareans, the Delaware Call is publishing the full text of the response we received from the Department of Elections.
In an email dated Jan. 25, 2022, the Department wrote:
The Department sincerely apologizes for the delay in responding to your Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request:
“How many applications to receive voting-by-mail ballots were sent out to registered voters during 2020 under the provisions of HB346? How many of those were returned to the Department of Elections because the voter had died or no longer resided at the address under which they were registered?”
Please be advised that Delaware’s FOIA statute at 29 Del. C. § 10003, does not require public bodies to answer questions, however, the Department, as a matter of transparency, wishes to provide you with information it possesses responsive to your requests.
In response to your first question, the Department mailed a total of 957,653 vote-by-mail applications to Delaware registered voters as directed under the provisions of HB346, which covered the 2020 Primary Election and the 2020 General Election. In advance of the 2020 Primary Election, the Department mailed 428,073 vote-by-mail applications to all eligible Delaware registered voters (duly registered Democrats and Republicans), who had not yet requested an absentee ballot for the election. A total of 529,580 vote-by-mail applications were mailed to all eligible Delaware voters in preparation for the 2020 General Election.
In response to your second question, please be advised that the Department processes and acts upon all pieces of undeliverable mail; however, the Department does not specifically track reasons for return. Thus, the Department is unable to provide the specific numbers of mail pieces returned marked as deceased or having moved. Generally, of the 957,653 total number of vote-by-mail applications sent out by the Department per the provisions of HB346, 19,917 of these mail pieces were returned to the Department as undeliverable, a 2.07% returned undeliverable rate. The voter records of each of these voters for whom undeliverable mail was returned to the Department have been updated. Some of these voters have updated their records with new residential address or mailing address information. The records of voters for whom the Department received returned mail from the HB346 mailing, but who have not voted or updated their records, have been entered into the address verification process, in accordance with the National Voter Registration Act. This process permits a voter to whom mail was sent and returned as undeliverable to either reconfirm their current address on the voter registration roll, to update their address on the voter registration roll, or notify the Department that they have moved out of the State and wish to cancel their Delaware voter registration. When an address verification mailing is sent, and the recipient does not respond within 60 days, the voter registration record of the recipient (voter) is placed in inactive status. If the Department has no further contact with the voter, and the voter’s record remains in inactive status for two consecutive General Elections, the voter’s record is then removed from the voter registration rolls, as required by law.
Thank you very much.
FOIA Coordinator/Community Relations Officer
Office of the State Election Commissioner