Commentary: Time has come for no-excuse absentee voting

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We, the people of the United States, are fortunate to live in a country where we have the freedom to vote for those who would represent us and the ability to vote them out of office if they fall short. Political theorists call that “popular sovereignty” — the people are in charge, not elites. But for that system of government to work as it should, people need to vote.

I am old enough to remember when voting was considered a civic duty, something every American was supposed to do. Voting was not controversial, nor was it a partisan exercise. There was no anti-voter contingent trying to deny our freedom to vote. So, to me, it makes no sense that the Delaware Constitution actually creates barriers to voting by restricting the ability of people to vote absentee if they so choose.

That is to say, right now, Section 4A of the Delaware Constitution limits our choices as voters. It allows people to vote absentee only “because of being in the public service of the United States or of this State, or his or her spouse or dependents when residing with or accompanying him or her because of the nature of his or her business or occupation, because of his or her sickness or physical disability, because of his or her absence from the district while on vacation, or because of the tenets or teachings of his or her religion.”

Notice that wanting to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic is not currently considered a valid excuse. That’s why, last year, the Delaware General Assembly allowed Delawareans to vote absentee without an excuse on a temporary basis. But if we want to continue to have that choice — the convenience of voting from home — we need to amend the constitution by passing House Bill 75 for the second time.

Looking back, we can see that no-excuse absentee voting was an unmitigated success. Voter turnout was almost 15% higher than turnout for the 2016 presidential election was, and 64,000 more Delawareans participated in our government by voting. And the election was safe, free and fair.

No-excuse absentee voting is not a partisan issue — contrary to what anti-voter extremists in other parts of the country want people to believe. Indeed, in 2020, many Delaware Republican legislators voted for the no-excuse absentee-voting amendment and, hopefully, they will again this year.

People regardless of party would benefit from having the choice of voting from home with an absentee ballot. In fact, the COVID-19 crisis has revealed that voting in person on Election Day just doesn’t work for most Americans. All around the country, other states did what Delaware did — people were allowed to vote absentee during the pandemic. And the results were phenomenal, in terms of voter participation: Turnout records were broken just about everywhere. When the ballots were counted, only 30% of voters had cast a ballot in person on Election Day.

We live in a society where the people are sovereign, so why should voters in Delaware have to provide the Department of Elections with an excuse to vote by absentee ballot? And how does it make sense for the state constitution to restrict the number of reasons why a person might need to vote absentee? I believe it should be my choice to vote absentee, and I should not have to provide the government with an excuse.

If you believe, as I do, that the residents of Delaware should have the freedom to vote by absentee ballot for reasons determined by them — including the desire to minimize health risks — then please contact your representative and ask them to vote yes on HB 75.

Claire Snyder-Hall is director of Common Cause Delaware. A former political theory professor, she has written extensively on democratic theory and practice.

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