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No-excuse absentee voting amendment fails in state House

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

Election reform advocates were disappointed after a constitutional amendment to allow no-excuse absentee voting failed in the state House Thursday.

A constitutional amendment allowing no-excuse absentee voting was something both parties agreed on back in 2019 when the amendment’s first leg passed 38-3 in the House.


But after an election filled with false claims of election fraud through absentee voting, minds changed in the Republican caucus.


State Rep. David Bentz (D-Christina) is the amendment’s prime sponsor.


“The only thing that changed between 2019 to now is the rhetoric around it,” Bentz said. “And we just experienced a year where a major party candidate for president, actually the sitting president, was railing against absentee voting as some form of a system that was rife with fraud.”


Two Republican members, Bryan Shupe (R-Milford) and Michael Smith (R-Pike Creek), went not voting on the amendment, despite supporting it in 2019. It could have passed again with their two votes.


Smith declined to comment Thursday, but previously supported the idea of a no-excuse absentee voting system.


House minority leader Danny Short (R-Seaford) made a statement about the vote, saying caucus members who supported it in the past have since re-examined the bill.


"To be clear, despite the sponsors’ claims, the bill does not authorize ‘no excuse’ absentee voting," Short says. "Rather, it eliminates from the state constitution the provisions authorizing absentee voting and gives the General Assembly the ability to enact new laws to recreate it in whatever fashion legislators see fit. That change significantly lowers the bar for majority Democrats to manipulate the law, with no Republican votes needed. Using that power, I believe they intend to turn no excuse absentee voting into a ‘vote by mail’ system – a scheme that will benefit Democrats."


Short also highlights the fact thatthree bills on the agenda filed by Republican members were not brought to the floor by House Majority leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Delaware City). One of the bills, by Shupe, would shift municipal voter rolls to the statewide voter registration system.


Short attributes that move as an act of retribution by Longhurst after the failure of HB 75.


In a strategic move, Longhurst switched her vote to no after realizing HB 75 would fail, securing her party's ability to re-introduce the amendment anytime this year or the next.


That means the bill still has a chance to pass through the end of the session next year. If the bill fails then, the two-session process of passing a constitutional amendment will have to start all over again.


Bentz hopes 2022 will offer a clean slate.


“I hope we can get to a place where I guess people can finally get their mind right about this and we can get back to thinking about this the way we did for decades — absentee voting — before the unfortunate campaign of 2020 where so much misinformation, disinformation was spread about this and fear around it that really isn’t based in anything that has been verified,” he said.


Bentz adds the absentee voting system is still the same secure system it was before, and will continue to be.


He says he now plans to shift his focus to other voting reforms, such as same-day voter registration.


Roman Battaglia is a corps member withReport for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.


This story has been updated to include a response from the House minority caucus.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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