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Bill to bypass Constitution, create vote-by-mail system passes committee

Charlie Megginson Government, Headlines

Bill to bypass Constitution, create vote-by-mail system passes committee

A bill to bypass the need to amend Delaware’s Constitution and cement no-excuse absentee ballots in future elections was released from a House Committee Wednesday despite objections from Republicans. 

Senate Bill 320, sponsored by Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, D-Ardens, has already passed in the Senate. 

If passed, the bill 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 not 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

Lawmakers are now trying to legislate through the back door what they failed to do through the front door, opponents say.

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.

Both Republicans on the committee opposed the bill’s release.

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