Bentz Amendment Would Allow Vote-By-Mail This Fall

DOVER – To better prepare for the possibility that Delaware will need to take extraordinary steps to ensure the ability of all residents to safely cast ballots this fall, lawmakers filed legislation Friday that would allow for vote-by-mail in the 2020 state primary and general elections.

The measure, an amendment sponsored by Rep. David Bentz, would eliminate an enactment date on an existing vote-by-mail bill. Currently, House Bill 175, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Brady, would allow voters to vote-by-mail beginning in 2022. Removing the enactment date would mean the bill would take effect upon General Assembly passage and Governor John Carney signing the measure into law.

“Delaware is facing an unprecedented situation due to the COVID-19 crisis, and we need to be forward-thinking now about how our lives might be fundamentally changed as a result,” said Rep. Bentz, D-Christiana. “One of those areas we have to consider is protecting every Delawarean’s right to vote while making sure they are not putting themselves at risk to contract Coronavirus.

“Fortunately, we already have a bill that would bring vote-by-mail to Delaware. By filing this amendment, we’re making sure we’re prepared to take quick, decisive action if necessary.”

In his latest State of Emergency modification, Governor Carney postponed the state’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 2 and is allowing residents to vote in that election by absentee ballot due to COVID-19.

“Voting is one of the most important duties we have as citizens of our state and country. I served our country in the military to protect every person’s rights, including the right to vote. And I believe that we should be doing everything in our power to ensure that as many people have the opportunity to vote,” said Rep. Brady, who also is sponsoring the amendment.

“Our world has changed in these past few weeks, and we have to be ready to change with it. It’s critical Delaware is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to protect our elections and people’s health. Having our vote-by-mail bill in a position to move forward at a moment’s notice is one thing we can do.”

Under HB 175, the state elections commission would administer the vote-by-mail program, creating rules and regulations for the effort. Ballots would be processed and scanned ahead of Election Day but not be tabulated until Election Day. Ballots could be mailed in, dropped off at any polling place on Election Day, or dropped off in a secure drop box at each county elections office before Election Day.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, legislative session has been postponed until further notice. House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf said that currently there are no specific plans to call lawmakers back into session to consider legislation such as HB 175, though the possibility remains. Legislative leaders, he said, are continuing to have conversations with administration officials about plans surrounding Delaware’s state primary and general elections.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 20 states have provisions allowing certain elections to be conducted entirely by mail, while five of the states (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington) have all-mail elections.