HB 361 and 362 will meet Challenges to Absentee Voting
March 28, 2022
As a small business owner, former Mayor of Milford, and a community servant I have been blessed with mentors that have taught me that progress always includes the mindset that when something is stagnant, adaptation is necessary. The first step is to have a street-level dialogue with those that are affected. Next, create a plan forward that includes what you have learned from those that you have listened to. Finally, gather the decision-makers, ask them to do the same, and move forward together.
From across the State of Delaware, the vast majority of people I had the opportunity to speak with stated that they want absentee voting for any reason and they also want to make sure the security of our absentee process is a high priority. As I continued to talk with residents and legislators, I started to draft an absentee voting bill for Delaware that accomplished these two goals. It is important that we have legislation, not just theories, on the table to begin moving forward. That legislation is attached.
Below is a synopsis of how these two bills accomplish this:
1. Absentee voting for any reason
- Eliminates the reasons for absentee voting stating that any reason for absentee voting is valid
- The qualified elector shall request the ballot themselves
2. Securing our absentee process
- Electors give a Delaware ID number, Delaware license number, or Social Security number to be verified by the Department of Elections
- New election rules and procedures must receive 2/3 vote across two consecutive sessions
- The absentee status is good for the current election cycle, not a permanent status
* The four legislators and votes that have been targeted in an attempt to pass absentee voting for any reason under past legislation HB 75 (Hensley, Ramone, Smith, and Shupe) have signed on as sponsors of this new legislation. All four have stated publicly that they will not vote for HB 75.
Beginning of Absentee for Any Reason Legislation
In short, Delaware legislators created HB 73 (later becoming HB 75) during the 150th General Assembly to remove the limitations on absentee voting. Since the bill changes the Delaware Constitution, it needs a 2/3 vote to achieve that threshold over two consecutive assemblies. The Senate passed the bill 14 to 5 and the House passed the Bill 38 to 3. It seemed to have broad support across both houses but in June of 2020, amid the pandemic, it became very clear through the passage of HB 346 that there was an unintended consequence that HB 75 presented for voting rights and a potential for abuse that was evident.
HB 346, which called for a proactive mailing of affidavits to all eligible voters in Delaware, was passed by a vote by only the majority party. Although many in the minority party agreed that COVID-19 should be an eligible reason to vote absentee, as seen by several amendments that were defeated including the inclusion of the virus as a reason and a requirement to show identification, they were ignored in favor of proactively mailing all eligible voters, regardless of the individual’s intentions of voting in the upcoming election.
It is true that elections have consequences, and this is why the creators of the Delaware constitution made sure that the protection of absentee voting as a whole would be protected through a 2/3 vote through two consecutive assemblies. The ability for a simple majority to change the rules within specific absentee voting procedures under 346, highlighted the fact that once the reasons for absentee voting are removed through HB 75, a simple majority could place any broad, new rules and procedures in place for the next election cycle to benefit their own candidates and party as a whole.
The challenges to past Legislation
There were several legislators that changed their vote during the second leg of the Constitutional Amendment, HB 75, for absentee voting once the ability for a simple majority vote to create new election laws for the current and future elections became not only evident but seemed to be the desired outcome. Regardless of what party an individual belongs to, I believe we can all agree that we do not want to grant any single political party the ability to change election laws without the check and balances of the minority party could have a detrimental effect on the integrity of our election laws. This could lead not only to a system where those in power create laws that benefit themselves but lead to a system that constantly changes based on political needs, confusing the general public about their ability and right during elections.
In 2022 as HB 75 was brought to the floor for the second vote, the votes changed as the measure was defeated with 25 yes, 14 no, and 2 not voting. BUT something strange happened, as Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst changed her vote to a no vote before the gavel was thrown down. This is a strategic move that allows the bill not to die and to be brought up during the same session.
Since that time, some in the Majority party and still undisclosed third parties have gone after four individuals on the Minority side of the aisle that they believe can be converted into yes votes. Representatives Smith, Hensley, Ramone, and I received postcards to our districts that were undisclosed with no return address or paid for by statements. We also received phone calls on our personal cell phones from people, dispatched through a call center, after hours telling us to vote for HB 75. The majority of calls and emails I received did not know what HB 75 was about, other than it being a voting bill. The aim was not voter education but pressure on elected officials. These actions are not against election laws in Delaware and are noted only to show the aggressiveness and desire to get HB 75 passed this year. These four legislators will not budge as long as a majority has the advantage to change election law for future elections.
What needs to be done
For those that are still holding out hope for HB 75, I will be the bearer of bad news and tell you that the legislation will not pass this session as long as a majority is able to set election rules. The process will need to start over with a new piece of legislation and dialogue from both parties to achieve this goal.
The new absentee voting bill discussed above needs to pass by a 2/3 vote of the General Assembly through two consecutive sessions. If passed before this June and again this January, absentee voting for all Delawareans will be available in the 2024 election cycle.
I encourage all of you to read through the legislation, take a look at the goals above laid out by the synopsis and have a discussion with the elected official that represents you. I have begun discussions with elected officials from across the aisle and will continue to do so. If you have any questions regarding this new absentee voting bill I can be reached at Bryan.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let us create the solution to secure elections that include absentee voting instead of running back to our political corners and blaming each other. Let us be the ones that begin the conversation, create community-driven solutions, and create real change that addresses the will of Delaware residents.
Bryan Shupe, State Representative 36th District