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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Carney hopes Legislature will make voting by mail permanent

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Gov. John Carney talks about how well voting by mail worked in the primary.
Gov. John Carney talks about how well voting by mail worked in the primary.

Bolstered by unusually high voter turnout in last week’s primary, Gov. John Carney said Tuesday that the Delaware State Legislature should permanently adopt voting by mail.

“I think they should,” he said. “I would certainly sign it.”

Voting by mail has been a contentious issue, divided along partisan lines. But last week’s primary had a 32 percent turnout, which Carney said broke a 2008 record and he credited absentee ballots for that boost.

The current state law only includes elections in 2020 and expires in January.

More than 76,000 votes were cast by mail, also called remote voting. Democrats cast 63,315 of their 121,343 ballots by absentee or by mail, and Republicans cast 13,069 of their 56,186 votes that way.

 

In general, Democrats say that voting by mail allows everyone to vote safely without having to worry about standing in line or being exposed to COVID-19. Republicans say they could vote by absentee, which has stricter identification rules, and that the system is ripe for abuse.

The road to mail-in ballots wasn’t as smooth as the state would have liked. Some voters complained they never got their ballots, they came late or that the ballot they voted and returned actually came back to them.

Multiple lawsuits are contesting how Delaware’s Sept. 15 primary was run – and how the general election on Nov. 3 will be. The state Board of Elections on Monday noted the the repercussions, and a dozen citizens chimed in with complaints and observations about voting.  

A ruling is promised by Monday in a suit by the Delaware Republican Party that a law passed the summer allowing more reasons for remote voting is unconstitutional, said Jane Brady, the Delaware Republican Party chair.

The system is “more subject to fraud than absentee ballots or voting in person,”  she said in August, when the party and two voters sued. “We want anyone who believes their health would be adversely affected if they voted in person, to vote absentee.”

With the League of Women Voters in Delaware and an individual voter as plaintiffs, the ACLU of Delaware sued the state to ensure that absentee and vote by mail ballots are counted if they were mailed on time but are received by mail within 10 days of the election. Currently, absentee and mail-in ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.  

“Delaware leaders took action to allow any voter to cast a mail-in ballot due to the pandemic, but now we must have a system that works for everyone. In July’s presidential primary, more than 50,000 voters cast their vote by mail, and 1,669 of those ballots were rejected because they were received after the return deadline, currently 8 p.m. on election day,” said Carol Jones, president of the League of Women Voters in Delaware.

On July 29, the US Postal Service warned many states, including Delaware, that voters who mail ballots for the general election should do so by Oct. 27.

Va’Shun Turner, a Wilmington councilman who lost the race to be city treasurer, filed a suit on Friday alleging “several irregularities and misconduct,” according to a copy posted online by WDEL.

Turner is concerned that polling sites were moved at the last moment, disenfranchising voters of color. He’s also worried about fraudulent ballots.  

Carney said there were lines at the poll when he voted.

“My view is, and I think the view of my party is, that we want to make it possible for as many people to vote and vote safely … and vote securely,” Carney said. “And vote by mail does it.”

He said the state Legislature has to make it a law.

“It’s not something I can do or intend to do by executive order under the State of Emergency,” Carney said. “That just wouldn’t be a good thing, so they’d have to do it.”

Staff writer Betsy Price contributed to this report.

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