Commentary: Lawmakers must act now to secure November election

By Mike Brickner

The searing images of Georgia voters braving extremely long lines in Southern summer heat, in the middle of a pandemic – just to be able to cast their ballots – should serve as a warning to officials: We need to be better prepared to handle anything that could happen on Election Day.

No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote, or need to factor in their ability to stand in long lines to cast their ballots – but if officials fail to act quickly, these are the very choices many voters will have to make.

Mike Brickner

Delaware lawmakers have a unique opportunity to ensure safe, free and fair elections this year and beyond by taking immediate action to pass a bill that allows every voter to use safe, secure and accessible voting by mail. In today’s climate with a pandemic, access to vote by mail is paramount. With the threat of COVID-19 ever-present and the trajectory of the pandemic hard to predict, it is vital that voters are assured that they can cast a ballot safely in the November election.

Vote by mail has been embraced across the nation. Thirty-four states already allow voters to request a mail-in ballot without providing an excuse. Leaders in Democratic- and Republican-controlled states have endorsed vote by mail, making it a rare issue that earns broad bipartisan support. But Delaware is falling behind by not offering this option to its voters.

Gov. John Carney has rightfully expanded the state’s rules for absentee voting to allow those sheltering at home or otherwise fearful of contracting COVID-19 to use the sick or disabled excuse to cast an absentee ballot. However, his order only covers the upcoming July presidential primary and school board elections.

Without swift action by the legislature, voters and election officials will be left uncertain about how they will cast their ballots in November, and that can inject chaos and confusion into the election process. Take it from me – before moving to Delaware, I worked on voting rights issues in Ohio. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our primary election was postponed with less than 24 hours’ notice to voters. The result was a hastily prepared vote by mail that officials were not prepared nor equipped to administer, and voters were left frustrated and disenfranchised.

In the 2018 general election in Delaware, fewer than 5% of votes were cast by mail. Hundreds of thousands of Delawareans who have never before voted by mail will need to learn how to navigate this process. Voter advocates and state leaders need to act as soon as possible to begin a public education campaign so that voters are empowered with the knowledge to successfully cast their ballots.

Election officials must also begin preparations now to shift the system to accommodate more voters who wish to cast ballots by mail. While vote by mail is convenient and secure, officials will need to print supplies, such as applications, ballots and envelopes, and may need to rearrange staffing to process vote-by-mail requests and ballots.

Allowing more voters to cast ballots by mail also helps those who prefer to vote in person. Some voters with disabilities, homeless voters or domestic violence survivors cannot use the vote by mail system easily. If more voters shift to voting by mail, it will ease crowding at Election Day polling locations, so that state and federal social distancing guidelines can be observed.

Our right to vote is the most precious right guaranteed to us, and we must act now to ensure that every Delawarean can cast a safe, free and fair ballot. By swiftly passing a no-excuse vote-by-mail bill as a permanent part of Delaware law, legislators will allow voters and election officials enough time to plan for a smooth November election. Even more importantly, they will guarantee that all Delaware voters have the option to cast a safe and secure vote by mail in all elections in the future.

Mike Brickner is executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware.