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Carney to sign mail-in voting bill Friday, GOP to sue

Charles Megginson Government, Headlines

Voting by mail

Gov. John Carney will sign a bill Friday to allow voters to send their ballots through the mail in all future elections, according to his communications director.

The Republican Party of Delaware promised to respond swiftly in the form of a lawsuit.

“When [the bill] first passed the General Assembly, we expressed concerns about its constitutionality,” said Jane Brady, chairwoman of the Delaware GOP. “I’m firmly convinced both provisions are unconstitutional and expect that we will be bringing litigation promptly upon the governor’s signature.”

Senate Bill 320 creates an opt-in vote-by-mail system wherein voters will have to request a ballot before one is sent. Ballots and ballot applications will never be automatically mailed to voters under the bill.

In June 2021, Republicans in the General Assembly effectively stopped the passage of a different bill that would have made no-excuse absentee voting a permanent fixture in Delaware’s elections.

House Bill 75, sponsored by Rep. David Bentz, D-Christiana, would have allowed Delaware voters to request mail-in ballots without providing an explanation.

But the bill, which sought to amend the Delaware Constitution, failed to receive the required two-thirds majority needed in the House of Representatives.

Constitutional amendments are also required to be passed separately during two consecutive legislative sessions.

Twelve Republicans voted in favor of the bill in 2019 during the 150th General Assembly. But in 2021, not one Republican voted in favor of the proposal.

The Constitution requires voters to provide justification before receiving an absentee ballot.

Excuses include being away from the state for work, college or public service, sickness or physical disability, military service or religious tenets in conflict with in-person voting.

RELATED: Senate OKs mail-in voting despite claims it violates Constitution

Supporters of Senate Bill 320 say vote-by-mail is not the same as absentee voting, and the Constitution grants the General Assembly the authority to “prescribe the means, methods and instruments of voting so as best to secure secrecy and the independence of the voter, preserve the freedom and purity of elections and prevent fraud, corruption and intimidation…”

Opponents say that’s a distinction without a difference and when lawmakers failed to amend the Constitution, they developed a workaround to circumvent the law: Senate Bill 320.

During the bill’s Senate hearing, Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, successfully attached an amendment to the bill that requires absentee voters to provide a form of identification — either the last four digits of their driver’s license or last four digits of their social security number.

Supporters included Common Cause Delaware, the ACLU of Delaware and the Attorney General’s Office.

Thirty-four states provide voters the option to cast ballots by mail. In 2020, 43.1% of the country’s electorate voted by mail.

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