Bills would move primary election, allow drug felons to get cash assistance

DOVER — Lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill Thursday to move the state primary election up to April, the same day as the presidential primary.

Currently, Delaware’s primary for state and county offices is the second Tuesday after the first Monday in September. Its presidential primary is the fourth Tuesday in April.

Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, D-Wilmington, believes changing the date would lead to greater voter participation.

“When we have two separate primaries I think it causes a lot of confusion,” she said.

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Rep. Stephanie Bolden

Statistics show more people vote in presidential primaries. In 2008, 38 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of Republicans voted in the Delaware presidential primary, while 28 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans cast ballots in September.

Also, 30 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of Republicans participated in last month’s presidential primary.

Because of Labor Day and a new school year, many people are not worried about voting in the September primary, Rep. Bolden said. The legislation, which would not take effect until 2020, would lengthen the time between the primary and general elections.

It would also save the state about $1 million from not having to put on two primaries, Rep. Bolden said.

Under the bill, the deadline to file for office would be moved from the second Tuesday in July to the fourth Tuesday in February.

The Election Department is supporting the measure, which has been placed in the House Administration Committee.

Eighteen states, including Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have their primaries on the same day as their presidential primary.

This year’s primary election is Sept. 13.

Thursday also saw several other bills introduced, including a measure to allow individuals convicted of a drug-related felony charge to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds.

The benefits are provided monthly as cash for a limited time to poor families or individuals with children. Currently, anyone convicted of a state or federal drug felony is ineligible for the funds for life.

Rep. David Bentz, D-Newark, is sponsoring the bill to remove the prohibition. He believes providing more services and shifting away from the tough on crime policies popular in the 1990s can reduce recidivism.

“If we’re expecting these people to re-enter life and become productive members of society we need to give them some sort of support when we release them,” he said. “The vast majority of people who go to prison are going to be coming home at some point and … if we want those people to be able to re-enter society and function and be productive they need to have some sort of support structure when they come out.”

The bill could face some opposition from Republicans, none of who have signed on as co-sponsors.

Rep. Bentz said he has not spoken to House Republicans about the proposal, which he sees as one step in a process that can help ex-offenders transition back into society.

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