By Kim Hoey
Susan Towers was recently delighted when she automatically received the request for a ballot for the presidential primary in the mail. Lou Ann Rieley, on the other hand, was disappointed.
Disappointed or delighted, registered voters should have received a request for absentee ballot from the State of Delaware, Department of Elections. More than 540,000 of the forms were sent out to registered Republican and Democrat voters in May.
The presidential primary is scheduled for Tuesday, July 7. Because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, voters are permitted to vote absentee as if they were sick or disabled even if not exhibiting symptoms. A limited number of polls will be open on the day of the primary for people who want to vote in person. Eligible voters can vote at any of the polling places in their county.
Delawareans have always had the ability to vote by absentee ballot for specific reasons – being a member of the military stationed outside of Delaware, being sick, or on vacation among them. People had to individually contact the department to request the ballot. This is the first time a mass mailing of ballot requests has been performed.
The process has some people concerned.
Rieley, of Millsboro, said she fears increased opportunities for voter fraud with such a large mailing. She cited incidents in Wisconsin and West Virginia where mail in ballots were changed and or not delivered.
“Mail in voting has more opportunities for your vote being disallowed,” she said. “There is no way to verify who filled out the ballot and under what circumstances.”
M. Jane Brady, chair of the state Republican party said she also has some concerns. Besides mailing in ballots, people may vote online with the department printing out the ballots. One of her colleagues wondered what would stop a person from registering several email addresses to request and then vote several times as different people. Others have contacted her about the accuracy of the Delaware voter rolls.
“We’re looking at what the procedures are,” said Brady. “We don’t want anyone’s vote diluted by fraud.”
Delaware Election Commissioner, Anthony Albence, does not think voter fraud is or will be a problem for the primary election. The forms are only to request absentee ballots, he said, not the actual ballot. People must fill them out and return or go online to ivote.de.gov to receive an actual ballot. When a person mails in a ballot, the person must seal and sign the envelope so the vote can be counted. A voting ID number is on the envelope so a person is counted as voting. The actual ballot is separated from the envelope to keep the vote confidential.
Every request and vote is reviewed by a live person, he said. They look for any irregularities including envelopes not sealed, envelopes not signed.
“We’d know if there were duplicate ID’s,” he said. He said tablets connected online on election day will be able to follow voting in real time and have a record if a person voted by absentee ballot, so duplication of votes does not happen.
As for the voter rolls. Voters become ineligible and can be taken off the rolls after two official mailings are returned and the person has not voted for two consecutive cycles. Albence did not know how many voters “fall” off the rolls, saying it was a different number every year.
Not everyone is concerned. Many people are thankful for the ease of the mail in option this year.
For Towers of Lewes, it is a question of her health. She will be 70 during the elections and, thus, part of a vulnerable population, she said.
“I’m very grateful I don’t have to go into a building where there are many people congregating during COVID-19,” she said. “I don’t feel safe around a group of strangers. We aren’t out of the woods yet.”
Jesse Chadderdon, executive director of the Delaware Democrat party says he hopes the mail in option keeps people safe, including the poll workers. Senior citizens make up the majority of the poll workers, he said. Even though the letters were sent to every eligible voter, the voter still has to opt in.
“It doesn’t just put a ballot in their hand,” said Chadderdon.
Albence pointed out that this mailing was for the presidential primary only, and was performed under federal guidelines and paid for through the federal CARES Act because of the pandemic. There are no plans at this time for the mailing out of ballot requests for the general election in November.
People planning to mail in ballots should do that as soon as possible, said Albence. Votes must be in hand on election day to count.