The Delaware Senate on Thursday passed a controversial bill to cement mail-in voting as an option for voters in all future elections.
Senate Bill 320, sponsored by Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, D-Ardens, passed 13 to 8 just before midnight with a last-minute amendment from Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover.
“While vote by mail is particularly helpful for those who may find it difficult to make it to the polls, it makes voting more accessible for all Delaware voters,” Gay said.
Bonini, who opposed the bill because he feels it’s “blatantly unconstitutional,” filed 27 amendments with the express intent of slowing it down.
By objecting to the introduction of each bill before the Senate and threatening to ask for debate and roll call on each of the 27 amendments, Bonini engaged in an effective filibuster that promised to keep the Senate in session until the wee hours of the morning Friday.
“However, a deal was struck just after 11:00 p.m.,” he wrote in a press release early Friday morning.
“My Senate Amendment 27 requires an elector to provide a form of identification, be it the last four digits of his or her driver’s license or last four digits of his or her social security number, to prove the identification of the person submitting a mail-in ballot.”
Only one Democrat, Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington, voted against Senate Bill 320.
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. If passed, it will become law immediately upon Gov. John Carney’s signing, meaning it would be in effect for the 2022 primaries and general election.
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.
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.
“I’m thankful my amendment was added and believe the safeguard will help, but this vote-by-mail system will surely be abused and create an environment ripe with voter fraud,” Bonini said.
Thirty-four states provide voters the option to cast ballots by mail. In 2020, 43.1% of the country’s electorate voted by mail.
In a press release Friday morning, Common Cause Delaware applauded the bill’s passage.
“Our ‘government by the people’ is stronger when every voter is able to cast our ballot without barriers like work schedules and family responsibilities,” the release said. “Adding vote by mail to early voting and in-person election day voting will give every Delawarean another option for how to cast our ballots, greatly enhancing the freedom to vote here in the First State.”
Charlie Megginson covers government and politics for Delaware LIVE News. Reach him at (302) 344-8293 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cmegginson4.
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