This article by Scott Goss appeared in the 1/16/19 Delaware News Journal. Click here to see it in its entirety on Delaware online.
More than half of all registered voters in Delaware cast a ballot in November — the highest turnout for a midterm election in the state in at least two decades.
Even more voters are expected to cast ballots in 2020 when President Donald Trump and Gov. John Carney will be running for a second term.
But some say the state’s voting laws are actually keeping eligible voters from participating in state and federal elections.
After multiple failed attempts in recent years, House Democrats now believe they are just weeks away from enacting a trio of reforms designed to remove some of those hurdles, as they see it.
“Voting is a fundamental part of our society,” state Rep. David Bentz, D-Christiana, said. “We should be doing everything in our power to make it easier for working Delawareans across the state to vote in our elections.”
Bentz is the prime sponsor of a bill that would allow early voting in Delaware for the first time. The First State is now one of only a dozen that still requires the vast majority of voters to visit the polls on election day.
House Bill 38 would allow Delaware voters to cast their ballots at designated polling sites up to 10 days ahead of any general, primary or special election — including the weekend before election day.
Another measure would make Delaware the 18th state to permit voters to register on election day, providing a last chance to participate. State law now closes the window on which voters can register nearly a month before voters head to the polls.
A third proposal would put an end to Delaware’s dual-primary system, which sets presidential primary day in the spring and a second one for statewide and local races in September — one of the latest primaries in the nation. Turnout on those two dates typically drops by as much as 50 percent from the presidential contest to the state-level primary.
House Bill 41 instead would consolidate both primaries to the fourth Tuesday in April.
Proponents argue those measures would increase turnout by giving voters more flexibility over when they can cast their ballots, open the ballot box to last-minute voters and focus attention on a single primary date.
Dozens of states have been moving in a similar direction. New York’s legislature, for instance, approved a package of election reforms on Monday that included early-voting, same-day registration and a consolidated primary.
But not everyone has been convinced.
In the past, Republicans have argued that early voting would require an amendment to the state constitution — something Democrats insist is not the case. GOP lawmakers also have raised concerns that same-day registration could lead to longer lines at the polls.
Even some Democrats privately say that moving the state-level primary contest to April could put incumbent lawmakers at a disadvantage, since the General Assembly would still be in session then, limiting the amount of time they have available to campaign.
“While it might be seen as an inconvenience to some by having an earlier primary, we owe it to residents to do whatever we can to improve our electoral process,” prime sponsor state Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, D-Wilmington East, said in a release.
Election reform advocates also have found a champion this year in Gov. John Carney.
After staying silent on the voting bills last year, the governor came out in favor of early voting and same-day registration this month while calling on the Legislature to “take a hard look” at moving the state primary election.
“Americans have sacrificed to secure voting rights for women and African Americans,” he wrote. “We have an obligation to build on that legacy by taking additional steps that will strengthen voter access for Delawareans and increase participation in our elections.”
Contact reporter Scott Goss at (302) 324-2281, sgoss [at] delawareonline.com or on Twitter @ScottGossDel.