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Delaware's Supreme Court tosses out vote-by-mail and same day registration

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

The Delaware Supreme Court strikes down the state’s vote-by-mail and same-day voter registration laws.

The court released a bare-bones ruling Friday, promising a full opinion later. It says that approach was taken because the election is just over a month away and the Department of Election’s sought to mail ballots to voters by or around October 10.

The ruling upholds a Chancery Court decision against the vote-by-mail law and reverses that court’s decision to uphold same-day registration.

In its abbreviated order, the Delaware Supreme Court says the vote-by-mail law "impermissibly expands the categories of absentee voters identified in Article V, Section 4A of the Delaware Constitution," rejecting the state' argument Thursday that Article V sets a floor, not a ceiling for absentee voting.

The ruling also says the court found same-day registration "conflicts with the provisions of Article V,
Section 4 of the Delaware Constitution."

GOP candidate for State Attorney General Julianne Murray was among those who brought the legal challenge. She says the ruling affirms her belief this issue was about the constitutional process and not voter suppression.

"I'm delighted. I was delighted when the Chancery Court came to their decision. This is, I think proper," said Murray. "It has always been about the amendment process. I know that there are people that have said that this is about stopping people from voting, and I just don't subscribe to that and have said all along, no. This is about amending the Delaware Constitution."

State Senator Kyle Evans Gay (D-Talleyville), the prime sponsor of the vote-by-mail bill, says while ruling is a setback, the momentum behind expanding voting access remains. Gay hopes the General Assembly will amend the state constitution to allow mail-in-voting – something she says will require voters to turn out this November.

“I hope voters understand that there has been one party fighting for increased access and removing unnecessary barriers to the ballot,” said Gay.

Gov. John Carney (D) echoed those sentiments, noting state Republican lawmakers supported a constitutional amendment allowing no-excuse absentee voting – but retracted that support. He hopes can become bipartisan again.

“Both sides of the aisle historically in Delaware have felt that that’s a very important principle – participation in our Democracy. Making it possible for people to vote, making it easier for people to vote instead of harder," said Carney. That’s going to be my principle.”

However, both Carney and Gay noted the challenge of gaining supermajority support in the next legislative session for amending the Constitution will be a challenge

Democratic leadership in the State Senate expressed disappointment with the ruling in a statement.

"This ruling, which undoes statues passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor John Carney, will effectively make voting harder and less convenient for working people in the First State, whom we believe should enjoy the same rights held by voters in dozens of other states across the country," said the statement. "
"Our efforts to provide a safe, secure, and legal vote-by-mail option through a Constitutional amendment were stymied by Republican legislators who switched their votes once Donald Trump began spreading the Big Lie. Republican legislators also voted to retain an arbitrary and antiquated Saturday deadline for voter registration."

State Senate Democratic leadership added that the ruling "makes clear that amending our State Constitution is the only path forward for implementing these policies."

Republican leadership in the State Senate lauded the Supreme Court decision.

“As Republicans in the Delaware General Assembly correctly argued during the floor debates for SB 320 and HB 25, both bills violated the Delaware Constitution. The sponsors and Democrats ignored our concerns,dismissed expert legal testimony, and passed both pieces of legislation anyway. Today, however, the rule of law prevailed," said the statement. “We thank the Delaware Supreme Court justices for the expedited process and their unanimous decision.”

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.