FAQ on voting in Delaware

DOVER — There’s never been an election like this one.

Even setting aside the tension and issues, the Nov. 3 election stands out because of an element of added uncertainty: voting in a pandemic.

Coronavirus has prompted states across the country to expand their voting laws, allowing residents to submit ballots by mail, and Delaware is no exception. The change is designed to keep people safe from COVID-19, while still allowing for broad public participation. But, at the same time, there are a lot of questions and misconceptions about how voting by mail works.

When do I need to submit my ballot? What if I change my mind after mailing it in? Will vote-by-mail just make it easier for unscrupulous citizens to commit fraud?

Given all the concerns, we thought it would be good to go directly to the state election commissioner and provide answers to some of the most common inquiries and misapprehensions.

Delaware is set to see a record number of ballots cast remotely in November, considering about 76,000 out of 178,000 ballots in last month’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, who are less trustful of mail-in voting, were several times more likely to vote at a polling place.

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

When and how do I register?

Saturday is the last day to register to vote, which is generally easiest to do online at elections.delaware.gov. The website contains many other helpful bits of information, including sample ballots.

Identification is not required to register or vote, but participants do need to have some way of verifying their identity, such as a bill.

Unlike the September closed primary, voters can back anyone they want Nov. 3, regardless of affiliation.

How can I vote?

Though Delaware law only allows residents to vote absentee for specific reasons, that’s being waived this year due to COVID-19. Any registered voter can request a mail-in ballot for Nov. 3, although individuals should get those applications in soon.

Ballots were mailed out this week and will continue to be sent through Oct. 30, according to the Department of Elections.

Individuals who requested a ballot by mail but would prefer to vote in person still have options. In that case, the ballot should not be mailed back to the Department of Elections, and the voter should instead show up at the polling place as normal.

The Department of Elections’ records indicate whether a person has voted already, preventing anyone from participating both by mail and in person.

There is one caveat: A person who submits a ballot and then wishes for it to be disregarded, either because they changed their mind about a race or for another reason, may be able to have that ballot thrown out. The individual should contact his or her county elections office to cancel the ballot, although that can only be done if it has not already been processed.

Ballots are available in English only, but Delawareans voting in person can request assistance from poll workers or bring someone (not an employer or union agent, however) to help them.

Delawareans who vote by mail should use the provided envelope, being sure to sign where indicated. Ballots are sent by first-class mail, and postage is prepaid by the state.

The department will notify voters who have incorrectly submitted ballots as long as time permits. Delawareans participating by mail should send their applications in at least a week before Nov. 3 and keep in mind that ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day will not count, although a lawsuit heard in the courts Tuesday could change that.

In addition to voting at a polling place or by mail, a resident can make an appointment to vote at his or her county elections facility. Each of the three offices, as well as the Carvel State Office Building in Wilmington, has a drop-box where voters can leave their ballots. There are no restrictions on who can drop off completed ballots filled out by others, such as friends or family members.

Visit elections.delaware.gov/services/voter/votebymail/index.shtml for more information, including drop-box locations. Phone numbers for the county offices can be found at elections.delaware.gov/locations.shtml.

Every polling place should be open Nov. 3, even if some are in different buildings than previous years. Anyone in line by the 8 p.m. close of polls will be allowed to vote.

Is it secure?

One of the foundations of American democracy is one person, one vote.

While President Donald Trump and some prominent Republicans have repeatedly claimed that states are simply mailing ballots out willy-nilly, there is little evidence of fraud involving mail-in voting.

In Delaware, at least, the state first mails ballot applications, not actual ballots. Forms are reviewed by elections personnel before being approved, with employees verifying that each application is accurate and legitimate, according to Election Commissioner Anthony Albence.

“Our process is always by request. … There’s no ballots that would be automatically sent to voters,” he said.

Even if a person receives multiple applications, they should be unable to vote more than once because of the checks the department has in place, such as addresses for each voter.

Ballot applications were mailed to about 470,000 people ahead of the primary. A total of 1,024 ballots were rejected, either because they came in late or did not have a voter’s signature.

As of late September, about 138,000 applications had been submitted for the general election, per Mr. Albence.

Completed ballots are scanned upon receipt at the Department of Elections, although no results are added up until polls close on Election Day. Someone who is concerned about their ballot counting can check the online voter portal (elections.delaware.gov/voter_tools.shtml) to see whether it has been received.

Teams of registered Republicans and Democrats work together to handle and tally ballots in hopes of ensuring the election process is nonpartisan, Mr. Albence said. The department also has video surveillance of collected ballots, and anyone can come to a county office to watch ballots being prepared.