Brickner and Bernstein: Delaware is a voting rights outlier


Mike Brickner is the executive director of American Civil Liberties Union Delaware. Andrew Bernstein is a Cozen Voting Rights Fellow for the group.

On Feb. 23, a Superior Court decision invalidated early in-person voting and permanent absentee voting in Delaware. This decision was yet another step designed to erode the democratic participation of Delawareans. Opponents of democracy had already lodged a successful lawsuit against Delaware’s same-day registration and no-excuse vote-by-mail laws in 2022, and previous efforts to expand voting rights through constitutional amendments have stalled out due to divisiveness on voting rights issues. That division intensified following a 2020 presidential election that sparked baseless, partisan efforts to sow doubts about election integrity.

However, we believe that our fundamental right to vote should not be subject to partisan slings and arrows designed to manufacture possible electoral advantages. As far back as our country’s inception, civil rights leaders have consistently pushed to expand who has access to the franchise because it is our most precious and potent means to have our voices heard.

We cannot sit idly by while Delaware continues to fall to the back of the pack in access to the ballot. This is why American Civil Liberties Union Delaware will be announcing a long-term campaign focused on delivering a series of critical democracy reforms in the First State over the next several years. Our campaign will invest considerable resources to advocate in the legislature, in the courts and at the ballot box.

Delaware has become a tragic outlier in our nation:

  • Two-thirds of states have a no-excuse absentee voting option — but not Delaware.
  • Two-thirds of states either have same-day-registration or a more voter-friendly registration deadline than Delaware’s 24-day deadline.
  • If the Superior Court ruling is not invalidated, Delaware would be among only four states that offer no early, in-person voting options.
  • Delaware is among only 12 states that permanently disenfranchise at least some individuals with felony convictions, meaning that these citizens cannot have their rights restored even after they serve their sentences.
  • Nearly half of states allow people on felony probation and parole to vote, but Delaware does not.

Taken together, these restrictions make Delaware one of the least accessible states to cast a ballot. For example, the only other states in the entire country that: 1.) do not have a no-excuse absentee voting option; 2.) do not have same-day registration; 3.) do not have early voting; and 4.) do not allow all people with felony convictions to vote upon the end of their sentences are Mississippi and Alabama — states that have long and infamous histories of voter disenfranchisement.

Delaware’s democratic backslide has very real consequences for voters. While there are many voters who prefer going to the polls on Election Day, each of the reforms we have mentioned increase participation and impact voters’ real lives. Expanding voting options beyond in-person voting on Election Day makes it easier for people with inflexible work schedules, child care duties or unreliable transportation to ensure they can cast their ballots. Registration deadlines tend to be one of the nation’s largest sources of disenfranchisement because many people — like college students, renters and low-income people — do not always have the time, knowledge or resources to finalize their registration weeks before the election.

Criminal legal disenfranchisement laws have a direct connection to Jim Crow laws that were promoted after the Civil War, which sought to deny the right to vote to Black Americans. Given our legal system’s disparate treatment of Black and Brown people, it is no shock that a disproportionate number of the more than 7,000 people disenfranchised due to these laws in Delaware are people of color.

At the same time, by not passing these laws, Delaware is missing out on several advantages of better ballot access. Many elections in the state suffer from low voter turnout, but that could be improved — merely passing same-day registration would allow for over 22,000 new voters to cast their ballots. Similarly, researchers have also found that offering extra days of early voting generally increases voter turnout, with Attorney General Kathleen Jennings recently indicating that early voting produced as many as 56,000 new voters in elections.

It’s not just voters who benefit but also our highly valued election administrators. When Delawareans had access to no-excuse vote-by-mail in 2020 and 2022, tens of thousands used this option to cast their ballots early, taking the pressure off election officials and making Election Day voting smoother. Lastly, the expansion of the franchise can lead to safer communities. Studies have shown that the likelihood of recidivism drops when formerly incarcerated people can participate in the democratic process.

Delaware has some of the worst voting rights laws in the nation, and all our communities pay severely as a result. It is past time to put partisan differences aside in Dover and for all legislators to pledge to enshrine these protections in our state constitution. Without these changes, it is the voters — of all political parties — who will continue to suffer.

The true power in our American democracy has always resided with the people first. And, like so many before us in U.S. history who have faced attacks on our most fundamental rights, we believe it must be up to the people to demand these changes. We are proud to partner with the Delaware Voting Rights Coalition — a strong and vibrant group of nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations who will help lead this work. American Civil Liberties Union Delaware stands ready to embark on a multiyear campaign to amend the Delaware Constitution, bring our state into the 21st century and ensure Delaware becomes a beacon of democracy and strong voter engagement. Make no mistake: Democracy will win in Delaware. And, when democracy wins, everyone wins. Help us expand voting rights in Delaware by volunteering:

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.