Democrats push same-day voter registration

en. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, speaks outside Legislative Hall in support of a bill that would allow same-day voter registration. (Delaware State News photo by Matt Bittle)

Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, speaks outside Legislative Hall in support of a bill that would allow same-day voter registration. (Delaware State News photo by Matt Bittle)

DOVER — A Senate committee heard on Wednesday a bill that would enable same-day voter registration.

The Senate Administrative Services and Elections Committee heard testimony from lawmakers, state officials and members of the public on the Democratic-backed Senate Bill 111, although no vote was taken.

The bill could be acted on as soon as today, and with four of the six members belonging to the Democratic Party, it seems likely the bill will make it to the Senate floor.

The proposal would allow eligible citizens to register to vote on the day of an election. Currently, voters must sign up more than three weeks beforehand.

Organized demonstrators line up outside Legislative Hall in Dover while holding signs proclaiming their support for same-day voter registration. Supporters say same-day registration would encourage voter participation, but opponents note it could lead to voter fraud — particularly in a precinct dominated by a single political party. (Delaware State News photo by Matt Bittle)

Organized demonstrators line up outside Legislative Hall in Dover while holding signs proclaiming their support for same-day voter registration. Supporters say same-day registration would encourage voter participation, but opponents note it could lead to voter fraud — particularly in a precinct dominated by a single political party. (Delaware State News photo by Matt Bittle)

If passed, Senate Bill 111 would also erase the requirement that states former criminal offenders must pay back all of their fines and court costs before they are eligible. Applicants would have to present a government-issued photo identification or a copy of a bill, check or government document with the person’s name and address.

Supporters say same-day registration increases participation and is an essential component of a democratic society.

Opponents note it could increase voter fraud.

In promoting the bill at a morning news conference, advocates centered on Delaware’s voter turnout last November — it was a paltry 36 percent. In same-day states, according to a representative from Demos, a left-leaning think tank, rates are typically about 10 percent higher.

Eleven states have same-day registration and three more have passed laws but not yet implemented the practice.

“We want to have a voice in the political process, because our vote is our voice, and our voice is our vote,” said New Castle County Council President Chris Bullock.

The bill is backed by groups such as the League of Women Voters and the liberal Sierra Club.

In the committee hearing Wednesday, two Republican senators expressed concerns the legislation does not require photo identification be presented to register.

“We just need to be sure our election system maintains integrity, because if it doesn’t maintain integrity then what do we have left? And we have to respect the system,” said Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Laurel.

Elections Commissioner Elaine Manlove, whose office is backing the proposal, said she cannot recall any instances of voter fraud in the state.

Any citizen caught voting multiple times or impersonating another person to vote faces a fine between $50 and $200 or a prison sentence of 30 days to two years.

Supporters on Wednesday cited the same-day states, noting they have not had issues with voter fraud.

Nationally, Democrats have tended to support expanding voting access, often claiming voter fraud is an overblown topic.

A same-day bill passed the House last year with no Republican support, but did not make it through the Senate.

Main sponsor Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, claimed minorities often are underrepresented among voters. She said she believes this bill would help prevent disenfranchisement.

Others also said people who move after the deadline but before the election are unable to register, effectively barring them from the political process for that cycle.

“Like many Delawareans, I was dismayed by the abysmal turnout of last year’s general election,” Sen. Henry said.

“It’s a problem that I believe needs a solution, and I think this legislation offers one that engages more Delawareans in the electoral process.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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