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Legislators attempt to move up statewide primary date, efforts to allow non-affiliated ballots fail

Delaware Public Media

Delaware is tied for last place in the lateness of its statewide primary, and State Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden (D-Wilmington) is attempting to pass legislation for the ninth time to change that.

Her bill would move the date of Delaware primary elections for statewide, county and municipal offices — currently held in early September — to the same date of the presidential primary in April.

Bolden says making the statewide primary coincide with the presidential primary will save the state over a million dollars among other benefits.

“It makes it easier for people to vote. It creates less confusion. It increases voter participation. It provides a wider window for those serving in the military and living abroad," Bolden said.

She notes the bill passed unanimously in the House among members present last June, but after receiving three no votes and 18 abstentions in the Senate, the bill was defeated.

House Speaker Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear) along with all four members of House Democratic and Republican leadership voted to send the bill to the House floor, and Bolden is hopeful this time it passes in both chambers.

During the same meeting, State Rep. Michael Smith’s (R-Newark) efforts to allow non-affiliated voters to cast a ballot in Delaware primaries failed to garner House Democratic leadership support.

Delaware is currently a closed primary state, meaning voters have to be registered with a political party in order to vote in a primary election, which leaves around 17,000 registered voters unable to participate.

Smith’s bill would have allowed non-affiliated voters to choose if they wanted to cast a ballot in the Democratic or Republican primary, but it would not automatically affiliate them with that party.

“You go to community meetings and you just talk to people and you bring it up – They’re just overwhelmingly disenfranchised with parties and don’t feel like parties are representing them anymore, but people do, and this gives them a better opportunity to pick the right person," Smith said.

Democratic leadership brought up concerns of removing the autonomy of either party to choose their own candidate, as well as arguing allowing same-day voter registration could be a better path forward.

With only Republican leadership in favor, the bill failed to move to the House for further consideration.

Delaware did not hold a presidential primary this year, but the statewide primary will be held on Sep. 10, 2024.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.