Delaware readies for big turnout on Election Day

Matt Bittle
Posted 11/1/20

DOVER — Delaware is already a blue state, with Democrats controlling all nine statewide offices and both chambers of the General Assembly. If the polls are right and the potential blue wave …

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Delaware readies for big turnout on Election Day


DOVER — Delaware is already a blue state, with Democrats controlling all nine statewide offices and both chambers of the General Assembly. If the polls are right and the potential blue wave materializes, that lead should only grow after Nov. 3.

Delaware voters will go to the polls Tuesday to make their voices heard, although many have already submitted ballots remotely.

In the midst of perhaps the most unusual election season in living memory, Delaware approved mail-in voting as a precaution against COVID-19. Overall turnout is expected to be high, with the Department of Elections having already received nearly 153,000 ballots.

For comparison, about 442,000 Delawareans voted in 2016, with roughly 5% of ballots coming in remotely.

About 76,000 out of 178,000 ballots in September’s primary election were sent by mail (including normal absentee submissions). More Democrats voted remotely than in person, though the shares were close, while Republicans were several times more likely to vote at a polling place.

There were about 121,000 participants, around 5% of whom voted absentee, in 2018’s primary contest.

All polling places will be open Tuesday. Voters are urged to wear face coverings, although they are not mandatory.

In such tense times, some have expressed fears about potential voter intimidation, prompting the Delaware Department of Justice to notify the public it will “strictly enforce” laws against such behavior. Voter intimidation can be hard to specifically define, but to paraphrase former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, you know it when you see it.

Threatening individuals, whether implicitly or explicitly, falls into that category, as does questioning voters about whether they are eligible (aside from poll workers inquiring, of course), impeding them from entering the polling place and filming or photographing them.

Individuals are barred from advocating for candidates in polling places, including wearing apparel touting or opposing a candidate or specific partisan issues. Shirts proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” are permissible, per the Department of Justice, while “Make America Great Again” hats are not.

Voters who are concerned about a perceived threat to their safety should call 911. Delawareans with other election-related concerns can call the Department of Elections’ voter hotline at 739-4277.

Department of Justice personnel in all three counties will staff a hotline for law enforcement to contact in the event of illegal activity on election day.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., though anyone waiting in line when the clock strikes 8 can still vote after polls technically close.

Identification is not required but is recommended. Anyone who does not wish to show ID must sign an affidavit stating they are voting legally.

Individuals who have cast a ballot by mail but are concerned about it arriving on time or wish to change their vote can participate in person if the ballot has not been processed already. Ballots received by mail after 8 p.m. Tuesday do not count.

A person who voted by mail can go to to see if his or her ballot has been received and processed.

Here’s an overview of key races on the ballot.


At this point, you probably don’t need the media to tell you who’s seeking the White House or what’s at stake.

As just about every Delawarean surely knows, this presidential election, which has been described by many as the most important in living memory, will feature President Donald Trump and Delaware’s Joe Biden.

Mr. Biden, who served as one of Delaware’s U.S. senators from 1973 to 2009 before spending eight years as vice president, is the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer. No Delawarean has come closer to the office of president than Mr. Biden, who has held several campaign events and speeches in the Wilmington area, including accepting the party’s nomination at the Chase Center on the Riverfront this summer.

With Delaware having backed the Democratic nominee in the past seven presidential contests, Mr. Biden is a cinch to win the state’s three electoral votes.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton collected 53.4% of the state’s votes in 2016.

U.S. Senate

Everything old is new again.

In 2010, Chris Coons earned election to the U.S. Senate by defeating Tea Party firebrand Christine O’Donnell. The parallels to that race are inescapable this time around, with Sen. Coons squaring off against an anti-establishment woman running on a far-right platform.

His chief opponent is Lauren Witzke, whose policy stances include a total ban on immigration for 10 years and who, like Ms. O’Donnell, topped the party’s preferred candidate in a primary.

Also running are Libertarian nominee Nadine Frost and Mark Turley of the Independent Party of Delaware.

Ms. Witzke has drawn criticism from the GOP for offensive social media posts. She also has expressed support for a baseless conspiracy theory that paints President Donald Trump as one of the lone bulwarks trying to hold back pedophile Democrats and their allies in Hollywood; has made racist tweets bashing multiculturalism and immigrants; has taken numerous shots at Sen. Coons, including calling him a “Satanist;” has urged officials to deport Muslims from Western Europe en masse; and has thanked the Proud Boys, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a hate group.

A millennial, she is a fervent supporter of President Trump and has ties to some alt-right media personalities.

Sen. Coons has largely avoiding engaging with Ms. Witzke, aside from a debate on Sept. 22, while pointing to his record of bipartisan collaboration in Washington. He’s far outraised her, with $2.27 million on hand as of Oct. 14, compared to $62,000 for Ms. Witzke.

His priorities if reelected include defending and expanding the Affordable Care Act, taking steps to combat climate change and tackling racial injustice.

Both candidates support more stimulus money to help Americans during the pandemic, although Ms. Witzke is in favor of lifting COVID-related restrictions. Sen. Coons, in contrast, has been critical of the Trump administration’s handling of the virus.

A strong supporter of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, the senator has been named as a possible candidate for secretary of state if Democrats capture the White House, although he has declined to publicly entertain the possibility.

A poll from the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication conducted in late September had Sen. Coons leading 57% to 27%.

U.S. House

Compared to the Senate, the House of Representatives contest almost seems benign.

In 2016, Lisa Blunt Rochester triumphed in a crowded Democratic primary and went on to become both the first woman and the first Black individual Delaware has sent to Congress. The former state labor secretary and personnel director is now seeking a third term.

Her main foe is Republican Lee Murphy, who unsuccessfully sought the party’s nomination in 2018. This year, Mr. Murphy has blasted Rep. Blunt Rochester as being more focused on undermining President Trump than helping Delaware.

Libertarian David Rogers and Independent Party of Delaware nominee Catherine Purcell are running as well.

Rep. Blunt Rochester’s platform is based in large part on bringing people together. She’s advocated for COVID relief and for confronting the country’s long history of racism and inequality.

Mr. Murphy believes reopening the state and the nation is the best way to handle the problems presented by the pandemic. He supports cutting government spending and has also identified the opioid epidemic as one of his chief concerns.

As of Oct. 14, Rep. Blunt Rochester had almost $928,000 to spend, while Mr. Murphy had about $31,000. The UD poll gave her an advantage of 51% to 29%.


The chief issue in the gubernatorial contest is undoubtedly COVID-19.

Republican Julianne Murray has taken Gov. John Carney to task for his handling of the crisis, calling for the state to reopen immediately. She’s expressed opposition to requiring Delawareans to wear face coverings in public and has accused the governor of being driven by politics and concern for wealthy donors.

For his part, Gov. Carney has consistently cited science, emphasizing he is listening to medical experts and describing public health and the economy as being intertwined such that the state cannot have one without the other.

His first four years have been defined in part by crises not of his own making, from a 2017 riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center two weeks into his term to the pandemic.

As issues like criminal justice reform, gun control and expanded voting access have become priorities for many Democrats, Gov. Carney has endorsed many of these proposals. A moderate, business-friendly Democrat, he’s also pushed for fiscal discipline, sometimes clashing with members of his party in the legislature over spending restrictions. Privately, some Democratic lawmakers have griped at times about the governor being unwilling to commit to bold changes, although few have openly criticized him.

A separate UD poll from September found that 63% of registered voters view him favorably. That’s the highest percentage for the six statewide officials mentioned in the poll.

The earlier poll from the university gave Gov. Carney an edge of 55% to 26% over Ms. Murray.

As of Oct. 26, Gov. Carney had about $239,000 on hand, with Ms. Murray reporting nearly $27,000 in her campaign account.

Also running are Libertarian John Machurek and the Independent Party of Delaware’s Kathy DeMatteis.

Ms. Murray, an attorney who filed a lawsuit against the governor over COVID restrictions earlier this year, believes she can ride a wave of anger stemming from coronavirus to victory. She supports opening schools all the way and allowing businesses to operate freely.

Republicans in general have been critical of the state of emergency in place since mid-March at the direction of the governor, seeing it as executive overreach.

Public sentiment may not be on the GOP’s side, however: During an October debate hosted by the University of Delaware, Ms. Murray expressed surprise at a poll from the university stating 78% of Delawareans support making mask-wearing mandatory.

According to the Washington Post, only Oregon and Washington have longer active streaks of electing Democratic governors than Delaware. The Democratic nominee has won the past seven gubernatorial elections here, failing to garner at least 58% only once in that time.

Should Gov. Carney win, he would become the sixth consecutive governor to serve the constitutional maximum of two terms.

Lieutenant governor

Unlike some states, Delaware elects its governor and lieutenant governor separately. While that can create some sticky situations with the governor belonging to one party and the lieutenant governor a member of another, Democrats have held both offices for the past 28 years.

This year, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long is seeking a second term, competing against Donyale Hall (no relation).

The lieutenant governor has few constitutional duties, officially being tasked primarily with overseeing the Senate and chairing the Board of Pardons.

Lt. Gov. Hall-Long, a former state legislator, has been mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2024, but that possibility becomes less likely if Ms. Hall can claim victory.

Ms. Hall would be just the second Black woman elected to statewide office in Delaware if she wins. She believes the state needs major change to help its many struggling communities and to fight against inequality.

A former nurse who teaches at the University of Delaware, Lt. Gov. Hall-Long has consistently championed physical and mental health efforts.

Insurance commissioner

There’s one more statewide race on the ballot, with Democrat Trinidad Navarro and Republican Julia Pillsbury seeking the office of insurance commissioner.

Mr. Navarro, who unseated the Democratic incumbent in a primary four years ago and then won the general election, has touted his administration’s work in codifying protections offered by the Affordable Care Act and expanding mental health and substance abuse coverage.

Ms. Pillsbury, a pediatrician, is running to lower health care costs for residents. The lack of choice, with Highmark as the only provider operating here through the ACA’s Marketplace, has been detrimental to Delawareans, she has said.

The office is tasked broadly with protecting consumers by regulating and negotiating with insurance companies. It’s not a particularly glamorous or well-known position, but the officeholder’s actions impact virtually every state resident.

Mr. Navarro has been dogged by lawsuits alleging racism and sexism in the office. He has denied the claims.

General Assembly

Political observers and insiders see Democrats as having a decent chance to flip at least one or two seats in the state Senate and House. The party currently holds 12 of 21 Senate seats and 26 of 41 House seats and has controlled both chambers since the 2008 elections.

While Sussex County and part of Kent County are solid red, New Castle County is deep blue. The Republican Party has become an endangered species in the most populous county, with only six of the 38 legislative seats partially or completely in New Castle held by the GOP, compared to 21 of 35 two decades ago.

Democrats flipped two northern New Castle seats in 2018, unseating powerful GOP incumbents. In a similar vein, the four remaining Republican lawmakers from above the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal — Sens. Cathy Cloutier and Anthony Delcollo and Reps. Mike Ramone and Mike Smith — are in Democratic crosshairs this cycle. All four represent districts with Democratic pluralities.

Attorney Kyle Evans Gay is aiming to defeat Sen. Cloutier, the minority whip, while Spiros Mantzavinos is taking on Sen. Delcollo, who beat the highest-ranking member of the Senate to win office in 2016. Rep. Ramone is being challenged by Stephanie Barry, who narrowly lost two years ago, and Democrats have put up Luann D’Agostino to take on Rep. Smith.

Only two downstate senators have electoral foes. Sen. Bruce Ennis, a Democrat first elected to the legislature in 1982, faces a challenge from Craig Pugh, while Republican Sen. Dave Lawson is opposed by Sen. Ennis’ aide, Jaci Hugg.

Republicans are hoping to knock off Democrats and at least close the gap in the chambers, though district demographics are generally not in their favor, and most GOP challengers in 2018 failed to come particularly close to winning.

September’s primary saw several Democratic candidates unseat older and more moderate incumbents, setting up what will probably be the most diverse Delaware legislature in history.

Among the likely newcomers are three Black individuals who pulled off primary upsets in Marie Pinkney, Larry Lambert and Madinah Wilson-Anton. In addition, Ms. Pinkney and Eric Morrison could become the first openly LGBT candidates to win legislative contests, and it’s believed Ms. Wilson-Anton would become the first Muslim lawmaker if she wins.

Also likely to be elected is Sarah McBride, a Democratic activist who would be one of the first openly transgender lawmakers around the country. She is aiming to succeed Harris McDowell, the longest-serving lawmaker in state history, who retired after 44 years in the Senate.

All five are Democrats seeking to represent districts above the canal.

The composition of the legislature has changed tremendously compared to just six years ago, as long-serving incumbents have retired or been defeated: Exactly half of the 62 lawmakers in office at the close of the 147th General Assembly in summer 2014 are guaranteed not to be back in 2021 (counting two representatives who are now senators) when the 151st General Assembly kicks off.

The Senate, in particular, has seen a changing of the guard, going from seven members elected in 1990 or earlier to two in a span of six years. While gray-haired incumbents still hold some power, there’s more youth than perhaps ever before, and the chamber could easily have six legislators in their 30s after Nov. 3.

The General Assembly has seen a distinct shift to the left in recent years, enabling criminal justice reform, expanded voting rights and other Democratic priorities to find success.

A blue wave this fall could have the legislature set to legalize marijuana and pass some gun control measures, and raising the minimum wage could also be on the table. More money might be invested in educating underprivileged students, and health care and climate change would likely also be priorities.

Of the 52 legislative seats up for election this fall, nearly half will be filled without a contest. In other words, 25 individuals, all of whom are incumbents, will be elected on Nov. 3 without facing an opponent in either the primary or general contest.

Democrats have not put up candidates in nine districts, eight of which are in Sussex. Seventeen seats will not have Republican nominees, just two of whom are outside New Castle.

Seven individuals had no opponent in 2018, down from 23 two years prior.

According to Ballotpedia, no state has had a current Democratic trifecta (the governor’s office and both chambers of the legislature controlled by the same party) longer than Delaware.