Legislation already introduced for the upcoming General Assembly session could change how Delawareans vote absentee.
Lawmakers passed an amendment to Delaware’s constitution eliminating limitations on when voters can vote absentee last session. It must pass a second time by a two-thirds majority in this new session to be finalized, like any amendment to the state constitution.
The change would strike the specific excuses currently needed to vote absentee—such as being away on vacation or having a physical disability—and direct the General Assembly to enact “general laws” providing the circumstances, rules, and procedures for absentee voting.
The amendment’s sponsor, State Rep. David Bentz (D-Christiana), says it’s important to give voters options.
“We should, as state government, be making it as easy to vote as possible and as convenient to vote as possible, and encouraging as many people to vote as possible,” he said.
An executive order broadened the acceptable excuses for voting absentee in last year’s presidential and state primaries. Temporary legislation also allowed all Delaware voters to vote by mail for the General Election in November.
Unlike under last year’s temporary vote-by-mail system, voters would not automatically be mailed applications to vote remotely if the constitutional amendment passes. Voters would still need to request absentee ballots—but barring new limitations from the General Assembly, would not need an excuse. The change would go into effect upon passage by both the state House and Senate.
Bentz says no-excuse absentee voting would reduce uncertainty for voters on election day by letting them send their ballots in early.
“People who maybe understand that they have chaotic and unpredictable work schedules, who understand that they have children who might derail their plans, if you wake up on election day and one of them’s sick,” he said. “We don’t want that to be a reason why you’re unable to vote.”
Constitutional amendments do not require a signature by the governor to be enacted. But Gov. John Carney has said he supports no-excuse absentee voting, as well as same-day voter registration, early voting at polling places up to ten days before Election Day and a change in the state primary election date to coincide with the presidential primary.
Before passing last February, the proposed constitutional amendment eliminating absentee voting excuses was defeated in 2013, then was re-introduced but failed to advance in the following two legislative sessions.
Carney signed a law in 2017 eliminating the requirement that voters have absentee ballot requests notarized.