Voters trickled into polling places Tuesday as Delaware’s primary election took place.
Fears of long lines and crowds that could help spread the novel coronavirus clearly were put to rest with voting by mail, a new state initiative for 2020 elections. And those votes may help Delaware set a record for the number of votes in a primary.
Gov. John Carney said in his Tuesday press conference about COVID-19 that he was told 62,000 Democrats and “a significant number” of Republicans — although he couldn’t remember how many — had voted by mail.
The governor said that in 2008, when he and Jack Markell were facing off in the Democratic primary for governor, 71,000 voters cast a ballot, and that was the highest number ever cast in Delaware.
“We’re gonna pass that,” Carney said. The Democrat absentee ballots alone almost reached that number, he pointed out.
“So the point is, vote by mail works,” Carney said.
Voting by mail
Others were not so sure.
John O’Neill of Rehoboth Beach was stunned to get the ballot he had mailed to the state 10 days ago returned to him Monday.
“We caught the mailman at 1 o’clock this afternoon,” O’Neill said Tuesday, “and he said they were having a special run with the ballots to Georgetown and he said they would have them there by 7 o’oclock tonight, but that’s a ridiculous situation.” O’Neill voted Republican.
The 76-year-old doesn’t understand why it took 10 days for his ballot to be returned to him. He has a theory that the postage-paid mark was extremely light and that a mail sorter couldn’t read it, so it was kicked out.
“But there’s no excuse for that either,” O’Neill said.
He’s not voting by mail in November.
“Oh, no,” he said. “I’m making sure my vote counts. I want to be there.”
His wife mailed her ballot the same day he mailed his. She’s wondering if it will come back, too.
“Maybe it went through,” O’Neill said.
DelawareLIVE CEO Bryan Shupe on Friday finally got a mail-in ballot in his mail. Shupe, a Republican who is also a member of the House of Representatives for Milford, got a Democrat ballot. His wife never got hers at all.
When they went to vote Tuesday at the Slaughter Beach Memorial Fire Hall, a poll worker told them they had already voted. Shupe explained what had happened, and the poll worker called over another person who showed her where to click a box on a computer so the Shupes could vote. The poll workers did not seem to call anyone to check, Shupe said. He thought they were supposed to call the state Office of Elections.
Shupe, who voted against the mail-in voting bill in the House, said the experience only solidified his opposition to the idea.
Molly Magarik, secretary of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, said during Carney’s COVID-19 press conference Tuesday that she also never got her mail-in ballot to vote. When she showed up at the polls, a poll worker called the state Office of Elections to be sure she hadn’t voted previously, Margarik said.
Attendance at polling places in Kent county seemed down Tuesday morning.
The scene at the Hartly Volunteer Fire Co. was drab and cold at around 11am. There had been few cars in the parking lot and even fewer voters.
“It hasn’t been as bad as it is right now. It’s kind of working in cycles,” said Greg Thompson, a campaign volunteer for Lauren Witzke, who is running for U.S. Senate. Thompson had been parked outside the polling place since 7 a.m.
“Right now there’s only like one person voting,” he said.
The few people who did come by to vote seemed to be older and diverse in race and sex.
“I’d say that at least 90% of the people I’ve seen come vote today are over 40,” Thompson said.
The polls themselves were socially distanced, with stickers on the ground marking where people should stand while waiting. However, there had been so few people voting, the marking wasn’t necessary.
It was the same story at the DelTech campus in Kent County. There were few people voting, many of them older.
Jesse Chadderdon, executive director of the Delaware County Democratic Party, said looks were deceiving.
“So far the numbers we have seen are that out of the 108,493 total mail-in ballots that had been requested, 72,615 have been returned already,” Chadderdon said, “The record turnout is just over100,000 in the primary so we may have a voter turnout record.”
Romeo Owusu of Bear, who was voting at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, arrived in what poll watchers said was a lunchtime spurt.
Owusu said he didn’t feel deprived of voter information as a result of campaigns being run in a pandemic.
“You did get documents coming through the mail,” Owusu said. “It’s not as big as it used to be, but the information is out there if you’re looking.”
Charlotte Walker of Bear said she had no trouble voting today, especially with the low turnout at the polls. Voting in the middle of a pandemic with relatively little traditional campaigning, also didn’t phase her.
“It’s up to the voter to know who they are voting for and make an effort to find out,” she said.
Staff writer Daniel Larlham Jr. also contributed to this report.