The Senate voted along party lines 15 to 5 to pass a bill that would amend the Delaware constitution to allow absentee voting for any reason.
Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington, ultimately would allow absentee voting for any reason.
However, it would require voters to sign an oath or affirmation saying they are free from improper influence before voting.
The bill required a two-thirds majority because it will change the state constitution.
The legislature had previously implemented no-excuse mail-in voting through Senate Bill 320, which was signed into law last July. But that bill was ruled unconstitutional by the Delaware Supreme Court in October 2022 in the case Higgin v. Albence.
So the Democrats are back with another bill.
While Senate Bill 320 had a fiscal note of $130,000 for the 2023 fiscal year and $132,600 for the 2025 fiscal year, both from the general fund, Senate Bill 3 doesn’t require a fiscal note.
Related Story: No-excuse absentee voting bill passes Senate committee
“Simply put, this bill allows individuals in the state of Delaware to vote by absentee without omission,” Brown said. “And we believe that we want to encourage the residents of our state to do so.”
Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said that absentee voting makes it easier for people to improperly influence someone’s decision and the Senate should move cautiously.
“If you’re doing this through absentee and allowing anybody to absentee vote for whatever reason, part of those protections on the voter side are removed,” Pettyjohn said. “There can be undue significant undue influence when somebody is allowed to vote for any reason, without the security of the polling place that we go to great lengths to protect on election day and during the early voting period.”
Anthony Delcollo, attorney for Senate Republicans, was asked by Pettyjohn how they could prove the voter is being truthful when signing the affirmation on improper influence.
Delcollo said he wouldn’t know how to verify the affirmation’s integrity.
“A matter of examining that in any sort of substantive way is something that I’m unaware of,” he said.
Eric Buckson, R-Dover, said he might support no-excuse absentee voting, but the bill presented doesn’t offer enough protections.
“If it is a restructuring of the absentee balloting, maybe there is a reason to move away from a just cause,” Buckson said. “If that was the only ask, we could have that conversation, but in the language that’s presented in this bill, it’s not the only ask.
“We’ll be back, we just will. And that’s what concerns me…it’s important that all Delawareans have the opportunity to participate in a free and fair election…but we must continue to have guardrails.”
Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Laurel, said he has concerns about the possibility of ballot harvesting.
“I can just imagine a scenario where someone goes to help somebody fill out a ballot and if they didn’t like the ballot when they left, might just accidentally get dropped in trash,” Richardson said.
Brown said that all the concerns raised about the bill are already present in Delaware’s existing absentee voting law.
SB3 has 18 additional sponsors and cosponsors, all Democrats.
The bill now heads to the House for consideration.
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