New laws aim to expand voting access in Delaware

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DOVER — In the upcoming primary election set for Sept. 13 and general election on Nov. 8, Delawareans will have their first chance at utilizing new voting methods.

During the 151st General Assembly, significant measures were enacted to expand voting access in the state.

Prime sponsored by Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, D-Wilmington, lawmakers passed same-day voter registration, which was signed into effect by Gov. John Carney on July 22. Under the law, Delawareans can register to vote and cast their ballots on Election Day for the presidential primary, primary, special, and general elections.

Unregistered voters must submit an application and a copy of a valid government-issued photo identification or a current government document confirming their name and address. State Election Commissioner Anthony Albence said Election Day will essentially serve as the voter registration deadline, although unregistered voters can register beforehand, including at early voting locations where Delawareans can register and cast their ballots 10 days prior to an election.

“If an eligible, unregistered voter arrives at their assigned polling place on Election Day and wishes to register, they may inform an election officer who will assist them in completing the registration process. Election officer training has been updated to include this procedure,” Commissioner Albence said.

The second measure to expand voting access in Delaware is vote-by-mail, which passed during the final days of the legislative session after staunch pushback from Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate. The bill, prime sponsored by Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, D-Talleyville, was signed into law on the same day as same-day voter registration and was established under the Delaware Constitution to “prescribe the means, methods and instruments of voting.”

Under the new law, Delawareans who wish to vote by mail must complete an application and return it to their county elections office so that it is received no later than seven days prior to the election. Once a voter receives their mail-in ballot, they must sign the ballot voter oath, and verify their identification by including the last four digits of their Social Security number, their Delaware driver’s license number, or their state identification number on their ballot envelope, which will then be covered by a security label for protection.

Commissioner Albence said the Department of Elections began preparations for voting by mail as soon as the legislation was enacted. The department was previously tasked with the implementation of the measure for the 2020 primary and general elections amid the spread of COVID-19.

For Delawareans opting to vote by mail in the upcoming elections, ballots can either be submitted through the mail or in a secure ballot drop box, which can be found at the Department of Elections office in each of Delaware’s three counties, as well as select locations in each county.

While opponents have questioned the security of mail-in ballot voting and drop boxes, Commissioner Albence said the process is secure, as are the drop boxes, which are locked and kept under continuous surveillance. Department of Elections staff are responsible for monitoring these mail-in drop boxes and are tasked with checking and emptying the boxes at least once per day.

“The drop boxes are secured, locked units, and are under continuous video surveillance. They are located at Department of Elections offices and are accessible while the offices are open and Elections staff are on site,” Commissioner Albence said.

While voters will have the opportunity to vote by mail in the upcoming elections, the measure is in the midst of being challenged in court. Just last month, two separate lawsuits were filed against the Delaware Department of Elections over the law, with one lawsuit challenging same-day voter registration in addition to voting by mail.

Commissioner Albence said the Department of Elections is continuing their work to ensure an efficient and secure voting process for every voter throughout the state.

“The Department of Elections has engaged in a great deal of planning and preparation to implement these new initiatives, and department staff have been engaged in training regarding the implementation of these new options for voters to utilize,” Commissioner Albence said.

For more information regarding vote by mail, same-day voter registration, absentee voting, polling places and more, visit here.

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