If you’re a Delaware citizen, here’s something you should know. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eight states conduct all elections by mail. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia enable any voter to vote by mail without providing an excuse for the request. Fewer than one-third of the states — and Delaware is one of them — require voters to provide an excuse for voting by mail.
If you want to vote by mail in Delaware, your excuse must relate to illness or disability, work-related concerns, religious beliefs, or one of three categories of absence from your voting jurisdiction on election day. During the 2020 election, concern about in-person voting during the covid pandemic was added to this list on a temporary basis. Other excuses? Disallowed.
According to the Census Burea, 66.8% of Americans 18 and older voted in the 2020 election, the highest percentage in the 21st century — despite the pandemic. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the 2020 election was the first in which more than 75% of Americans could vote by absentee ballot.
Clearly, Delaware has some catching up to do to join the mainstream of states that allow no excuse absentee voting. It’s going to require more than a simple change in statutory law. That’s because the six excuses that enable Delaware voters to cast an absentee ballot are enshrined in the Delaware Constitution. And so it is necessary to amend the constitution to allow the General Assembly to set the rules.
Amending the Delaware Constitution requires a two-thirds affirmative vote in each house of the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions. If House Bill 75 obtains a 2/3 favorable vote in late January, the Senate will consider the bill. Unlike other bills, approval by the governor is not required.
It is not difficult to imagine all sorts of reasons why someone might want to vote by mail. Because the constitution enumerates a finite set of reasons, many entirely appropriate “excuses” can be disallowed. This can have the effect of disenfranchising some individuals for whom in-person voting is impossible. That’s not good for democracy. Had Delaware not made an exception to the rules for mail-in voting because of the pandemic, disenfranchisement could well have been the result for my wife and me in 2020. As older people, we were unwilling to risk exposure to the COVID-19 virus by voting in person.
Absentee voting is safe and secure. It has worked in Delaware for nearly 80 years. We now need to make it available to anyone who wants to vote that way, with no excuse needed.
While Delaware is trying to catch up to the rest of the country by enabling no-excuse absentee voting, some other states are, for political reasons, attempting to make voting more difficult. Congress is considering a bill, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, that would undo what some backward-looking states have done, but it may be doomed in the Senate.
You can help protect democracy. Vote. Encourage others to vote. And ask your state legislators to support House Bill 75, the constitutional amendment under consideration.
Nick Fina is a member of the Delaware Voting Rights Coalition. The views expressed are his own.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: You should support no-excuse absentee voting in Delaware