ACLU sues Delaware over deadline for mailed ballots

DOVER — The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware announced Thursday evening the filing of a lawsuit to force the state to accept ballots mailed in but not received before the Election Day deadline.

The lawsuit, which applies to the Nov. 3 general election but not the Sept. 15 primary, would require ballots that arrive at a Department of Elections office after 8 p.m. on Election Day to count as long as they were mailed ahead of time.

Legislators approved no-excuse absentee voting this year due to the pandemic, although mail-in voting remains much more popular with Democrats than Republicans.

“Mail-in ballots are expected to shatter previous records — in July’s presidential primary, more than 56,000 Delaware voters cast absentee ballots, compared to just over 5,000 absentee ballots in 2016,” the lawsuit states. “At the same time, the United States Postal Service has experienced widespread delays in recent weeks.

“The USPS has also warned that even if voters receive their ballots and mail them back promptly, there is a ‘significant risk’ that the Department of Elections will not receive them by Delaware’s return deadline of 8 p.m. on Election Day. As a result, many voters who request a mailed ballot near the statutory deadline will be forced to choose between voting in person or not voting at all. Many others who act in good-faith compliance with the statutory timing risk having their votes not counted.”

President Donald Trump and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have come under substantial criticism this summer for changes to the Postal Service that many have said have slowed down mail delivery and could significantly impact the election. The Postal Service has warned states that ballots sent within a week of the election may not be received in time.

The lawsuit, which the League of Women Voters of Delaware is also participating in, asks the courts to require the state to accept ballots that arrive within 10 days of the election if they were mailed by Nov. 3.

“Voting by mail is a secure and safe way for voters to cast their ballot, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Delaware’s current deadline for receiving ballots could mean thousands of voters would be disenfranchised because of mail delays,” Karen Lantz, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Delaware, said in a statement. “By extending the deadline, it would also minimize the number of people that will need to access voting locations, thereby providing more space and less risk for those who choose to vote in person.”