Delaware primary yields record mail-in numbers

U.S. Senator candidate Lauren Witzke, middle, talks to Jim Startzman, left and TylerYzaguirre
at the primary election watch party at Frazier’s Restaurant on Tuesday night. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

DOVER — Delaware’s primary election set records for turnout Tuesday. As of press time, the contest saw more than 160,000 voters cast ballots, many by mail.

During his weekly briefing on coronavirus earlier in the day, Gov. John Carney said 2020 “probably will be the highest turnout primary vote that we’ve had in the state of Delaware,” with mail-in voting alone almost surpassing the prior mark. Approximately 83,000 Democrats and 38,000 Republicans took part in 2018’s primary contest.

Delaware expanded absentee voting this year due to COVID-19, enabling people to cast a ballot by mail rather than needing a specific excuse to vote remotely. Gov. Carney said 62,000 Democrats voted by mail, along with a “significant number” of Republicans.

As of 10:30 Tuesday night, with 85% of precincts reporting in, Democratic mail-in ballots outnumbered Republican ones about 5-to-1.

Many of the Delawareans who took advantage of mail-in voting were elderly, according to the governor. Individuals 60 or older are considered to be at higher risk for coronavirus.

“I think it will prove to be certainly critically important, allowing people to vote safely in the pandemic situation. And then as a matter of democracy, just having more people with the access to vote,” Gov. Carney said.

Like so many other things, the process of voting by mail has become polarized. Both during the vote on the legislation in June and since then, Republicans have expressed concern about vote-by-mail causing fraud and errors to skyrocket. State Rep. Bryan Shupe, R-Milford, said last week he recently received his absentee ballot, only to find it listed him as being a Democrat, when he has been registered with the Republican Party for 15 years.

Tuesday had a few bumps throughout the day for voters who took part in person, although issues pop up every election.

About a half-dozen voters who requested mail-in ballots but then opted to vote in person instead relayed stories of facing difficulties when they first arrived at their polling places, Delaware Democratic Party executive director Jesse Chadderdon said. Those Delawareans had to “cajole” poll workers into checking with the Department of Elections, which then confirmed they were eligible to vote, he said, although he was unaware of anyone who was turned away entirely.

The Democratic Party set up a special hotline for voters to call if they encountered issues. The line received 100 calls by noon, and Mr. Chadderdon expected the end-of-day total would be about 200 to 250.

There was some chaos in the Wilmington area, too, as a few polling places changed locations without voters being informed. There were also reports of machine trouble at some spots.

GOP Chairwoman Jane Brady said she also heard of some problems, including similar situations involving people who requested but did not turn in ballots and then voted in person, but there was nothing “groundbreaking.”