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Delaware Senate Democrats

Delaware Senate Passes Vote-by-Mail, Other COVID-19 Bills

June 25, 2020

Legislation allowing Delaware residents to cast their ballots from home passed the Delaware Senate on Thursday – along with several other Coronavirus-related bills – and now heads to Governor John Carney for his signature.

House Bill 346, which expands Delaware’s absentee voting system to all eligible voters in calendar year 2020, passed the Senate by a vote of 18-3.

“This is a great day for democracy in Delaware,” said Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride. “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we work, how we shop, how we interact with family and friends and even how the General Assembly conducts business, but thanks to HB346 this virus will not prevent a single Delaware voter from exercising their fundamental right to vote. Those who wish to vote in person are welcome to do so, but this legislation guarantees that no one will have to choose between risking their health and participating in a fair, open and secure election.”

Passed by the House on June 18, HB 346 instructs the state Department of Elections to mail an application for a vote-by-mail ballot to every qualified voter in Delaware between four and 30 days before each election. In the state primary on Sept. 15, that would include only registered Democrats and Republicans.

Any voter wishing to vote by mail would need to complete the application, sign and date it, and mail it back to the Department of Elections. The mailing would include instructions for completing and returning the ballot. Postage would be pre-paid by the state election department, meaning there would be no expense for voters to submit their ballot by mail.

All in-person polling sites would remain open, but voters would have a choice whether to cast their ballot by traveling to those locations or by exercising their right to vote from the safety of their own homes.

“With this legislation, we are doing all we can to ensure the disastrous elections we’ve seen in other states will not occur here in Delaware,” said Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore. “With record turnout expected in our upcoming presidential election just when the CDC is predicting another wave of COVID-19 infections, we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to protect our residents and our democratic process during this pandemic. I am proud of my colleagues in the Senate and the House who put partisanship aside to guarantee all Delawareans can be heard at the ballot box.”

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, the prime sponsor of HB 346, agreed.

“The current COVID-19 crisis and its impact on our communities has fundamentally shifted the way we live our lives” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear. “Preserving Delawareans’ fundamental right to vote is imperative. We need to make sure voters have the ability to cast their ballots without risking their health and safety. This bill establishes the process for protecting our elections and our health.”

Vote-by-mail is part of a series of bills passed by the Delaware General Assembly this week to address the ongoing impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic. Other measures sent to Governor John Carney for his signature include:

  • House Bill 353, sponsored by Rep. Ed Osienski and Sen. Jack Walsh, would relieve employers of some unemployment tax liabilities stemming from job terminations, furloughs or layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic by using federal funds to repay the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund for benefits paid those claimants.
  • House Bill 352, sponsored by Rep. Ed Osienski and Sen. Jack Walsh, would extend provisions in Governor Carney’s COVID-19 State of Emergency that provide greater flexibility to the Delaware Department of Labor in the issuance of unemployment benefits related to job terminations, furloughs and layoffs due to the pandemic. These changes would remain in effect until March 21, 2021.
  • House Bill 351, sponsored by Rep. Ed Osienski and Sen. Jack Walsh, would expand the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and authorize to hold more hearings in anticipation of record numbers of appeals commensurate with the record number of unemployment filings received by DOL since the pandemic began. The bill would extend those provisions through June 30, 2021.
  • House Bill 349, sponsored by Rep. Quinn Johnson and Sen. Trey Paradee, would assist the Delaware restaurant industry to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing food and drink establishments with valid on-premise alcohol licenses to continue selling those beverages to take-out, curbside or drive-through customers, among other changes. The bill would extend those provisions through March 31, 2021.
  • House Substitute 1 for House Bill 348, sponsored by Rep. David Bentz and Sen. Bryan Townsend, would codify the telemedicine provisions from Governor Carney’s State of Emergency, allowing patients to meet with their medical providers via telemedicine services without having to show up in person first. The bill would continue those provisions until July 1, 2021.
  • House Bill 347, sponsored by Rep. Earl Jaques and Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, would allow the Office of Management and Budget to extend the period pertaining to procurement of goods and services by State agencies for up to 15 days, permit bids and proposals to be submitted electronically, and allows for electronic execution of documents. This would be extended until March 31, 2021.
  • House Bill 345, sponsored by Rep. Larry Mitchell and Sen. Nicole Poore, would extend the deadlines for several legislative task forces and committees, many of which have not been able to meet or had their work severely curtailed by COVID-19. Most task forces are created by resolutions, which expire with the end of each General Assembly. The 150th General Assembly ends on November 3.
  • Senate Bill 253, sponsored by Sen. Bruce Ennis and Rep. John Viola, would extend provisions protecting consumers against price gouging for an extra 60 days beyond the lifting of the State of Emergency., The bill also allows the Governor flexibility to ratchet down those protections through future executive orders.
  • Senate Bill 251, sponsored by Sen. Laura Sturgeon and Rep. Frank Cooke, would extend State of Emergency provisions that allow couples applying for marriage licenses to appear together before an issuing officer through video conferencing and allows that issuing officer to witness the couple’s signatures on their marriage license application virtually. These changes would remain in effect until June 30, 2021.
  • Senate Bill 248, sponsored by Sen. David Sokola and Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, would extend State of Emergency modifications related to the disability insurance program for state employees. The bill would extend those provisions until Dec. 30, 2020.
  • Senate Bill 247, sponsored by Sen. Stephanie Hansen and Rep. Sean Matthews, would extend State of Emergency modifications that allow remote notarization and witnessing by Delaware attorneys through video conferencing. The bill would continue those provisions until June 30, 2021.
  • Senate Bill 246, sponsored by Sen. Nicole Poore and Rep. Ray Seigfried, would help hospital patients who are unable to make decisions about transition home or to long-term care facilities and do not have family members available to help. The bill would allow hospitals to petition the courts to appoint a patient guardian if no other family or other surrogates can be reached.
  • Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 239, sponsored by Sen. Jack Walsh and Rep. Ed Osienski, would amend the Delaware Contractor Registration Act signed into law in 2019 by postponing the date of implementation from October 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021.