Delaware Senate approves early voting

DOVER — Come 2022, you’ll be able to cast your ballot more than a week before election day.

The Democratic-controlled Senate on Thursday passed legislation that will, once Gov. John Carney signs it, make Delaware the 40th state with early voting.

The bill will allow residents to vote in person for a period of at least 10 days leading up to an election, including the weekend immediately before. The Department of Elections is required to have at least one location in each county plus Wilmington where a person can vote for a state office.

The measure was approved 16-5 by the Senate after being passed by the House 34-6 last month. All the opposition came from Republicans.

“We should make it easier — not harder — for all Delawareans to participate in our democratic process, and have their voice heard at the ballot box,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “This legislation will do just that. Voting is our most fundamental right as Americans, and I want to thank members of the General Assembly for their work on this issue. I look forward to signing this legislation into law soon.”

Supporters claim the measure will make it much easier for people to have a say in elections.

“Right now, participating in the electoral process — the activity that supports our whole system of government — is limited to 13 hours on one day, every two years, and you absolutely have to be there in person,” Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore, D-New Castle, said in a statement.

“Busy at work? Family emergency? Right now in Delaware, you’re out of luck. If you can’t make it between 7 and 8, you will not be allowed to vote until the next election, essentially silencing your voice for the next (two) years.”

Also approved Thursday was a bill reducing the restrictions around absentee voting.

Currently, an individual can only cast an absentee ballot if he or she has an illness or disability, will be out of the district on vacation, has religious restrictions that prevent him or her from voting or is “in the public service of the United States or of this State, or his or her spouse or dependents when residing with or accompanying him or her because of the nature of his or her business or occupation.”

The measure, which passed 38-3 with only Republicans voting against it, would replace those conditions with a line simply stating the General Assembly will create general laws specifying when someone can vote absentee.

The bill now goes to the Senate, although because it is a constitutional amendment, it must pass again in 2021 or 2022 before becoming law.

Legislation that would move the state’s primary election from September to April is pending in the Senate after passing the House in January. Another bill that would allow same-day voter registration is awaiting a floor debate in the House.

DelTech

Thursday was a busy day for the House: In addition to the absentee voting bill and a measure raising the age to buy tobacco to 21, representatives approved legislation recommending the General Assembly allocate more money for Delaware Technical Community College’s deferred maintenance.

The bill, which was already passed by the Senate, calls for legislators to set aside $10 million a year for DelTech for five years and fully fund the college’s annual maintenance requests.

Supporters say the college sorely needs additional funding because 79 percent of its buildings are more than 25 years old and the institution has deferred maintenance costs totaling $89.9 million across its four campuses.

Although the bill has been trumpeted by DelTech President Mark Brainard, it is nonbinding on the General Assembly, meaning its actual impact could be muted.

The House passed the bill 40-0. Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, went not voting due to a conflict of interest stemming from his position as an instructor at DelTech.

Democrats defeated an amendment from Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, that would have added to each student’s bill a fee of $10 per credit up to $150 a semester.

“The bottom line is it creates dedicated skin in the game by the users, by the customers of these facilities,” Rep. Yearick said.

Opponents, however, protested it would burden low-income students.

Gov. Carney will sign the bill.

Auctions

Members of the Senate seem to be enjoying having an auctioneer among them.

Sen. Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville, runs an auction house in Lincoln and as such is very good at speaking very rapidly. As part of a “hazing” tradition, several senators took turns imitating an auctioneer, calling out numbers in rapid fashion when discussing Sen. Wilson’s first bill a few weeks ago.

When the chamber voted on his bill making a minor change to Delaware State Fair Centennial Limited Edition Special License Plates last week, Sen. Harris McDowell stood up in protest — sort of.

Years ago, the Wilmington Democrat recalled, “I got fed up with so many license plate bills I said I wouldn’t vote for any more of them.”

That pledge didn’t last long, however, Sen. McDowell noted, promising to vote for Sen. Wilson’s proposal if he would “auction” the bill off.

Sen. Wilson complied, to the amusement of his colleagues, and Sen. McDowell kept his word, casting a vote for the measure.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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