DOVER — A Milford Republican said he will file a pair of bills in the House of Representatives that will allow absentee voting for any Delawarean who requests a ballot, while protecting the integrity of the state’s elections.
The effort aims to replace an absentee-voting bill working its way through the legislature, House Bill 75.
Rep. Bryan Shupe announced House bills 361 and 362 Monday. The bills would change Delaware’s Constitution and Code, respectively.
HB 75 and Rep. Shupe’s new bills both seek to create reason-free absentee voting and give the General Assembly the ability to enact general laws related to absentee voting.
However, the two new pieces of legislation seek to add restrictions to GA’s power by requiring that any laws enacted by state lawmakers be done by a two-thirds vote of the presiding chamber, rather than a simple majority.
Rep. Shupe’s bills also detail that absentee-voting status would have to be applied for every election cycle.
He said he crafted the legislation after hearing from voters around the state.
HB 75, a constitutional amendment, would have to be approved by concurrent sessions of the General Assembly. It passed the 150th session, as HB 73, but it has stalled in the 151st General Assembly.
“As a small-business owner, former mayor of Milford and a community servant, I have been blessed with mentors that have taught me that progress always includes the mind-set that, when something is stagnant, adaptation is necessary,” he said. “The first step is to have a street-level dialogue with those that are affected. Next, create a plan forward that includes what you have learned from those that you have listened to. Finally, gather the decision-makers, ask them to do the same and move forward together.”
After hearing from voters, he crafted his legislation and has gathered fellow sponsors for his bills — Reps. Kevin Hensley, R-Townsend; Mike Ramone, R-Newark; and Mike Smith, R-Pike Creek.
“From across the state of Delaware, the vast majority of people I had the opportunity to speak with stated that they want absentee voting for any reason, and they also want to make sure security of our absentee process is a high priority,” Rep. Shupe added. “As I continued to talk with residents and legislators, I started to draft an absentee-voting bill for Delaware that accomplished these two goals. It is important that we have legislation, not just theories, on the table to begin moving forward.”
To secure a ballot, it would first have to be requested by the voter, who would then be required to affirm his or her identity with the Department of Elections via a Delaware ID number, a driver’s license number or a Social Security number.
Objections to HB 75
According to Rep. Shupe, the problem with the current effort to change how absentee ballots are cast is an unintended one related to the pandemic.
In the first year of COVID-19, lawmakers and Gov. John Carney enacted and adopted HB 346, allowing the state to send absentee ballots to all eligible voters, so they could participate in that year’s election safely. It was signed into law July 1, 2020.
Rep. Shupe believes that, if HB 75 is passed, it and the permissions granted by HB 346 would create the potential for abuse by the state’s majority political party.
“(HB 73 and HB 75) seemed to have broad support across both houses but in June of 2020, amid the pandemic, it became very clear through the passage of HB 346 that there was an unintended consequence that HB 75 presented for voting rights and a potential for abuse that was evident,” said Rep. Shupe in a statement announcing his bills Monday.
His main sticking point concerns rules relating to changing election procedures that HB 75 and HB 346 would create. He wants any voting rule changed to be enacted by two-thirds of the members voting and not just a simple majority.
“It is true that elections have consequences, and this is why the creators of the Delaware constitution made sure that the protection of absentee voting as a whole would be protected through a 2/3 vote through two consecutive assemblies. The ability for a simple majority to change the rules within specific absentee voting procedures under 346, highlighted the fact that once the reasons for absentee voting are removed through HB 75, a simple majority could place any broad, new rules and procedures in place for the next election cycle to benefit their own candidates and party as a whole,” Rep. Shupe said.
Pressure by HB 75 supporters
HB 75 needs to pass this GA session to become law and impact how voting is done in 2022. While it was approved in the 150th General Assembly, it has seen opposition this year.
The bill has been paused while sponsors can garner enough support to bring it back up for debate in the House.
On Monday, Rep. Shupe accused members of the Democratic Party and “still undisclosed third parties” of starting a campaign aimed at him and his bills’ other sponsors to support HB 75.
“Representatives Smith, Hensley, Ramone and myself received postcards to our districts that were undisclosed with no return address or paid for by statements. We also received phone calls on our personal cell phones from people, dispatched through a call center, after hours telling us to vote for HB 75,” he said. “The majority of calls and emails (from constituents) I received did not know what HB 75 was about, other than it being a voting bill. The aim was not voter education but pressure on elected officials.
“These actions are not against election laws in Delaware and are noted only to show the aggressiveness and desire to get HB 75 passed this year. These four legislators will not budge as long as a majority has the advantage to change election law for future elections.”
According to Rep. Shupe, HB 75 in its current form is dead in the water.
“For those that are still holding out hope for HB 75, I will be the bearer of bad news and tell you that the legislation will not pass this session as long as a majority is able to set election rules. The process will need to start over with a new piece of legislation and dialogue from both parties to achieve this goal,” he said.
Like HB 75, Rep. Shupe’s bills would need to pass by a two-thirds vote by two consecutive legislative sessions. If passed before the end of June, the measures could come back for a second round in January and could be in place for the 2024 election.
“Let us create the solution to secure elections that include absentee voting instead of running back to our political corners and blaming each other. Let us be the ones that begin the conversation, create community-driven solutions, and create real change that addresses the will of Delaware residents,” Rep. Shupe said.
The House Democratic Caucus responded Monday, saying it is unaware of any coordinated campaign to get members to change their minds on HB 75.
“I’m not aware of any such thing, but it’s not uncommon for advocates to call or email legislators to urge them to vote a certain way,” said the caucus’s deputy chief of staff for communications Drew Volturo.
“That is an extremely regular, normal part of public engagement of elected officials: advocacy for (or against) legislation. Members from both sides of the aisle often get messages from residents asking them to vote one way or another. More controversial or ‘hot-button’ issues generate more outreach from residents.”
The main sponsor of HB 75, Rep. David Bentz, D-Christiana, said he hopes there is a way for his bill to move forward. He blames new opposition on the disinformation that came from the 2020 presidential election.
“Absentee voting has been an effective, secure and popular method of voting in Delaware for over 40 years, which is why the no-excuse absentee proposal achieved such broad bipartisan support in 2019,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the events of the 2020 presidential campaign and the disinformation about absentee voting created an environment where the legislation suddenly became viewed through a partisan lens by the House Minority Caucus.
“The result of this is many Delawareans will be without the opportunity to vote via absentee ballot in the 2022 elections, despite no real safety or efficacy concerns with the process. We owe to our constituents to make voting as convenient and accessible as possible, and HB 75 presented a tremendous opportunity to do just that.”
Rep. Bentz said he is hopeful the two parties can find some kind of compromise.
“Unfortunately, the introduction of these bills leaves the fate of HB 75 up in the air. I am happy to see legislation come from the minority party that presents their preferred path forward on the issue, but it must be taken with a grain of salt, since so many failed to follow through on their support of previously agreed-upon legislation on the matter.
“I hope their offer is a sincere effort to find common ground, so that we can have no-excuse absentee voting in place for Delawareans as soon as possible. I remain committed to working on this and will remain engaged, though I am disappointed I most likely will not be able to see the matter through to its conclusion before my time in office has ended,” said the representative, who is not seeing reelection this fall.