Early voting, same day registration, presidential primary bills introduced

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Legislators filed bills this week that would bring early voting, consolidate primary and presidential primary votes andbring same-day registration to Delaware were introduced this week.

“Voting is a fundamental part of our society. We should be doing everything in our power to make it easier for working Delawareans across the state to vote in our elections because when everyone participates, we all stand to do better,” said Rep. David Bentz. “These proposals will help increase voter turnout in our elections, which should always be a common goal.”

The bills unveiled Wednesday all passed the House of Representatives during the 149thGeneral Assembly. All have the support of Gov. John Carney.

GOP opposition and a lack of enthusiasm by Dems

Delaware has been slow to join the trend toward early voting, due to Republican opposition and majority Democrats not overly enthusiastic about making a change, given their solid majority. Republicans also claim that same day registration increases the chances of voter fraud.

House Bill 38, sponsored by Rep David. Bentz, D-Christiana, would have Delaware join the other 35 states that have in-person early voting, allowing residents to cast ballots before Election Day. The measure would require the Department of Elections to offer early voting to Delawareans for 10 days before a general, primary or special election, including the weekend before Election Day. Maryland and New Jersey are among the states that offer early voting.

Backers say a 2013 Brennan Center for Justice reportfound that early voting reduces stress on the voting system, creates shorter lines on Election Day, and increases access to voting as well as voter satisfaction.

House Bill 41, sponsored by Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, D-Wilmington,would move Delaware’s state primary elections to coincide with its presidential primary elections in April.

Consolidating presidential, state primaries

Currently, Delaware holds its presidential primaries for both major parties on the fourth Tuesday in April. However, the First State’s primaries for statewide and local political offices are held on the second Tuesday after the first Monday in September. The separate dates can create confusion among voters, while turnout for the state primary dramatically drops off from the presidential primary. The change would take effect with the presidential election in 2020, but it also would move “off-year” elections (2022, 2026, etc.) to the same Tuesday.

Supporters noted that In 2016, 30 percent of registered Democrats and 37.7 percent of registered Republicans voted in the presidential primary. But those numbers dropped to 20 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans in the state primary later that year. In 2012, GOP primary voter participation dropped from 16 percent in the presidential primary to 13 percent in the state primary.

Delaware’s late state primary forces election officials to obtain waivers for federal requirements for overseas and military absentee ballots. Consolidating the primaries would eliminate that issue, as well as save the state money, reduce voter confusion and increase turnout, Bolden stated.

Same day registration proposed

A third bill, House Bill 39, sponsored by Rep. John Viola, D-Bear, would make Delaware the 18th state to allow same-day voter registration, which permits eligible residents to register to vote and cast their ballots on the same day.

Under HB 39, a person would be able to register to vote at his or her polling place on the day of a presidential or state primary or general or special election by showing a valid government-issued photo identification card, current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or other government document displaying the name and address of the person registering to vote. Those are the same criteria required for a person registering to vote under current Delaware law.

Current state law sets the last day to register before an election at the “fourth Saturday prior to the date of the election,” close to a month before Election Day.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, same-day registration has existed in Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin since the mid-1970s. Since then, more than a dozen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted same-day registration, and several other states are considering similar laws.

The bills have been assigned to the House Administration Committee.

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