A bill looking to make voting easier in Delaware passed through committee Thursday along party lines.
Primary sponsor Democratic state Rep. David Bentz's House Bill 75 looks to amend Article V of the Delaware Constitution to allow for absentee voting, without a voter needing to provide a reason for the ballot.
"We, as a state government, should be making it as easy and convenient as possible for our constituents and the residents of our state to vote, and encouraging as many people as possible to vote and exercise the right to vote," Bentz said during the House Administration meeting on January 21, 2021.
The concept behind the bill is accessibility, Bentz said, adding all voters should be able to cast their ballots in a way most convenient for them.
"Allowing for no-excuse absentee voting gives Delawareans the ability to plan for the unexpected," he said. "We've had an absentee voting system in this state for a long time. We know it is safe, we know it is secure, we know it is reliable, and this would simply expand access to that system of voting for many more Delawareans."
The bill ultimately passed with three Democratic votes in favor to two Republican votes against. Rep. Timothy Dukes attempted to explain he was supportive of the idea behind amending voting rules, but didn't articulate what issues specifically he had with the bill, only that he didn't like the language as it was currently presented.
"I agree that there needs to be major changes to voting and the way that we do it, Dukes said. "I'm just concerned, in this present form. Although I do appreciate--I do support the idea of bringing change, I don't support the legislation as it currently is, so I'll be voting no. But I am looking forward to working with you and trying to bring some ideas that it can work so that we can pass this and [have there] be bipartisan support."
Republican Rep. Daniel Short also voted no, but only said he didn't like how closely the bill had been presented to an election where questions--proven to be patently false concerns created by misinformation being spread by the office of the presidency--had been raised about election security
"I just wanted to point out that there are some in the state, and certainly across the nation, that have some sort of expectations of voting, and certainly after the past election...that have a perception of what actually happened," he said, stating he'd received "tons of emails" on the issue. "I'm worried about the timing of this coming out, and how that might be perceived by some."
Public comment came from a number of advocacy groups supporting greater accessibility to voting in the state.
"Safe and secure absentee voting has existed for nearly 80 years in Delaware," said Dwayne Bensing of the ACLU of Delaware. "Our elections officials know how to ensure that every registered voter ballot counts, whether it's cast in person or absentee."
The League of Women Voters of Delaware's Jill Itzkowitz cited an increase in civic participation when easier voting methods are presented to the public.
"We support this bill because it'll increase voter turnout," she said. "We saw, with the 2020 election in Delaware, when we had no-excuse absentee voting due to COVID, voter turnout since the last president election increased by 7%. And, I might add, there were no problems or issues with absentee voting."
Itzkowitz said 68% of states already have instated permanent no-excuse voting or vote-by-mail options available. Delaware and 13 southern states only allow for absentee voting with an excuse or reason, she said.
It also aids some of the most disenfranchised communities in having their voices heard, Claire Snyder-Hall of Common Cause Delaware said.
"[The bill] would eliminate one of the barriers to voting. Throughout our history, our country's history, barriers to voting have generally impacted black, brown, and less advantaged voters disproportionately," she said. "HB 75 will enable all Delawarean voters to exercise our right to have our voices heard, and our ballots counted in our democratic system of government. The voters should call the shots, and we do so by exercising our right to vote."