DOVER, Del. (AP) — The Democratic-controlled state Senate on Thursday approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow no-excuse absentee voting in Delaware in a vote across party lines.
Democrats introduced the proposed amendment earlier this year after the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that a universal vote-by-mail bill they passed in the General Assembly last year it was unconstitutional. Democratic lawmakers had introduced the bill after failing to win support from Republicans to amend the constitution.
The Supreme Court upheld a Chancery judge’s ruling that the vote-by-mail law impermissibly expanded the categories of absentee voters identified in the Delaware constitution. The rulings came after Democratic lawmakers, in passing the bill, acknowledged that it might not be constitutional and that the courts would likely have to intervene.
The constitution currently provides that people may vote absentee if they are unable to go to the polls on Election Day due to their public service, business, or occupation. Spouses and dependents living with or accompanying persons in these circumstances may also vote absentee. The other allowances are sickness or physical disability, vacation, and religion.
The proposed amendment removes those restrictions and gives the General Assembly vague and unspecified powers to enact absentee voting laws. The amendment specifies only that such a law must include “an oath or affirmation” that a person’s vote is free from “undue influence,” which is not defined.
“How would that be enforced?” asked Republican minority whip Brian Pettyjohn of Georgetown.
Republicans said Delaware’s early voting law already allows residents to cast ballots without having to go to a polling place on Election Day. They also raised concerns about the collection of absentee ballots without excuses and about activists using lists of absentee ballot requests and returns to target and improperly influence voters who had received but not yet returned absentee ballots. .
A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote of each house in two consecutive General Assemblies. With the Democrats holding a 15-6 lead in the Senate, there was little doubt that the amendment would receive the required supermajority of 14 votes. The amendment needs 28 votes in the House, where Democrats hold 26 seats. Then you would also need supermajority votes at the next General Assembly.
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