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Delaware Senate passes first leg of constitutional amendment to allow no-excuse absentee voting

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

State Senate Democrats pass the first leg of a constitutional amendment to roll back restrictions on absentee voting on Thursday — a vote held with little advance notice or fanfare.

After failing to gather enough support to pass a previous constitutional amendment with the same goal, Democratic state lawmakers attempted a workaround last year, passing legislation with a simple majority to allow Delawareans to vote by mail.

They argued the state constitution’s limits on acceptable reasons for absentee voting are a floor, not a ceiling for the General Assembly.

Delaware’s Supreme Court rejected that argument in October, overturning the law and asserting the General Assembly could only permit voting by mail via constitutional amendment.

State Sen. Darius Brown’s bill would begin that process, removing the constitution’s limits on the circumstances in which absentee voting is allowed and permitting the General Assembly to set new rules and procedures through legislation. Brown argues no-excuse absentee voting is a common practice nationwide and would allow Delawareans to choose the most convenient voting option without cutting corners.

“We don’t want people to have to lie to vote absentee," he said. "We want to ensure they have the option to vote absentee without saying they’re away when they may not be away.”

Republicans raised familiar arguments in opposition, including objections to the short notice given to consider the bill. Senate Minority Leader Brian Pettyjohn also argued that giving voters more options to vote outside of polling places risks losing some privacy and political neutrality protections.

“Part of the protections on the voter side are removed [when voting absentee]," he said. "We have to be really careful. There can be significant undue influence if a person, when somebody is allowed to vote for any reason without the security of the polling place.”

The amendment passed with more than the required two-thirds majority in the Senate on a party-line vote, and it will need to reach the same vote threshold to pass in the House and return for consideration and final approval next session.

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