Longhurst calls on Republicans to stop withholding support for Jaques’ bill

DOVER – House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst called on House Republicans Tuesday to stop withholding support and voting against legislation that would expand access to absentee voting.

Sponsored by Reps. Earl Jaques, John Kowalko and Dennis E. Williams, the measure would amend the Delaware Constitution to remove restrictions on absentee voting and enable the General Assembly to extend absentee voting to all eligible Delaware voters.

House Bill 20 was released from committee a month ago, but languished on the House agenda for six session days before being voted on Tuesday. Because the bill amends the Delaware Constitution, it requires a two-thirds vote to pass, or 28 votes. Despite all 27 Democratic representatives voting for the bill, the measure failed 27-14 when the entire Republican caucus voted against the measure.

“Several House Republicans have expressed support for the bill. So why won’t they vote for it?” asked Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear. “It’s clear House Republican leadership is playing politics with this bill and withholding votes. Voting is not a partisan issue. Delawareans deserve fair access to voting. Republicans need to either help pass this important bill or explain their uniform opposition to the public.”

Election results from 2012 show absentee votes do not necessarily favor the majority party or an incumbent. For example, both GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and gubernatorial candidate Jeff Cragg earned a significantly larger percentage of the absentee vote than they did of the overall vote in Delaware. Romney took 44.5 percent of the absentee vote as opposed to 40 percent of the overall vote and Cragg won 34 percent of the absentee vote as opposed to 28.6 percent of the overall vote.

At the local level, results show both parties benefit from absentee votes. In the 15th Senate District, Republican Sen. David Lawson won the absentee vote by 137 votes, an important component of his overall win by only 543 votes. Former Republican Rep. Lincoln Willis won 56.6 percent of the absentee vote in his race against Rep. Trey Paradee, but captured only 45.7 percent overall.

“It’s clear that access to absentee ballots is not a Democratic or a Republican issue. This bill is about increasing access to voting for all Delawareans,” said Rep. Jaques, D-Glasgow, the bill’s prime sponsor. “We teach our children that voting is a fundamental component of our democracy. Allowing any Delawarean to request an absentee ballot gives everyone an equal opportunity to have their voice heard.”

HB 20 is the first leg of a constitutional amendment. If this bill passes the General Assembly during this two-year session, an identical version must pass the 148th General Assembly, which begins in 2015.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 27 states and Washington, D.C., already have no-excuse absentee voting. Neighboring states New Jersey and Maryland are among those states.