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Vote-by-mail bill passes in marathon State Senate session

Colin Bonini uses procedural rules to delay voting on a bill permitting voting by mail.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
Colin Bonini uses procedural rules to delay voting on a bill permitting voting by mail.

Senate lawmakers worked past midnight to pass legislation making voting by mail a permanent feature of Delaware’s elections.

State Sen. Kyle Evans Gay’s (D-Talleyville) bill faced stiff opposition from Republicans, and particularly state Sen. Colin Bonini (R-Dover), who stalled Thursday’s session for hours and introduced more than two dozen amendments to the bill.

Most of those amendments would have pushed back the bill’s effective date. One that passed requires voters to provide a driver's license number or last four digits of a social security number on their vote-by-mail application and ballot envelope.

Gay argues that voting by mail is a proven way to increase voter turnout, citing her own difficulties reaching a polling station while pregnant.

“There was nothing under the law that would allow me to do anything except for hope that I didn’t go into early labor on election day or before election day and become disenfranchised,” said Gay.

Bonini called the bill “political,” arguing his Democratic counterparts feared a Republican wave during November’s midterm elections and were rushing through a bill he claimed would open the doors for a surge of voter fraud and ballot tampering.

“When you go and look at the voting tabulations, you’re going to find lots and lots of people who have either never voted before or almost never vote… they’re going to almost magically vote. If you’re going to tell me those are legitimate votes, I don’t believe you," said Bonini.

State Sen. Sarah McBride (D-Claymont) countered an increase in voter turnout should be viewed as a victory, not a reason for suspicion, and claims of widespread voter fraud elsewhere haven’t withstood scrutiny in court.

"I don’t see it as some scary phenomenon that people who haven’t voted in the past are suddenly voting. That is a good thing in a democracy," said McBride. "We should celebrate that and take steps to make that happen, which is exactly what this legislation would do."

The bill still needs to pass in the House before it can go to Gov. Carney.

If adopted, the law would take effect before the midterm election this fall.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.