‘So convenient’: Delaware’s first crack at early in-person voting is attracting 5,000 people a day

A sign reads Early Voting Site. A building is visible in the background.

The Claymont Community Center had a steady stream of early in-person voters this week. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

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Busy running errands Monday in the suburbs north of Wilmington, Millie Manelski and Alberta Whitney decided to take a detour to the Claymont Community Center.

Their mission: cast their votes, a full week before Election Day.

Emerging from the booth, both women exclaimed that they didn’t have to wait in a line and could breeze in and out.

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“So convenient,” Manelski said. “We were up this way and wanted to get it done. I couldn’t wait to vote.”

Whitney seconded that note: “I couldn’t wait to vote either.”

Two women pose together outside of a building.
Millie Manelski (left) and Alberta Whitney raved about the ease of the process. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Both voters are retirees who live more than 10 miles from the Claymont center. It’s not their polling place, but they joined a steady stream of voters who came from all over northern New Castle County and descended on the former high school.

They took advantage of Delaware’s first election with early in-person voting, courtesy of a law that passed in 2019 and took effect this year. Delaware is one of the last states to let people vote in person before Election Day.

The state has 14 early polling places that opened Friday, 11 days before the Nov. 8 election. From Wednesday through Sunday, when early voting ends, the sites are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

So far, the effort has been a success, said Cathleen Hartsky-Carter, of the Department of Elections. Early voters so far have included President Joe Biden, a Delaware resident who was joined by 18-year-old granddaughter Natalie Biden at the Wilmington Riverfront on Saturday.

President Biden and granddaughter Natalie Biden stand and speak with a poll worker seated at a table.
President Biden and his granddaughter Natalia voted early at the Wilmington Riverfront on Friday. (Associated Press)

During the Sept. 13 primary election, early in-person voting accounted for 3,000 of the roughly 50,000 votes cast.

Primary voters also used no-excuse, mail voting in the primary, but last month, the state Supreme Court struck down the new law and another that allowed people to register and vote at the polls the same day. People can still cast absentee ballots if they receive approval from election officials for health or employment hardship.

But early voting was not challenged, and through Tuesday, a period encompassing the first five of the 10 days of early voting for the general election, 24,648 people had done so. That’s nearly 5,000 a day.

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At that pace, the number would reach about 50,000 by Sunday — about one-seventh of the 350,000 voters who turned out in the 2020 midterm elections.

Through Tuesday of this week, 19,629 voters had cast absentee ballots.

“The department has heard from many voters that they’re very impressed and pleased with the use of early voting,” Hartsky-Carter said. “And everyone I’ve spoken to has expressed their delight at the use of the process.”

A woman poses in front of a state seal and the U.S. flag.
Cathleen Hartsky-Carter of the Department of Elections says she has received positive feedback from voters. (State of Delaware)

Carter noted one surprise has been that southernmost Sussex County, a Republican stronghold with less than half the population of heavily Democratic New Castle County, has recorded the most early votes, 12,980 to New Castle County’s 7,831.

Kent County, the smallest of the three in Delaware, had recorded 3,837 early in-person votes through Tuesday.

Hartsky-Carter said her “apolitical” agency would not draw any conclusions about the election from Sussex County leading the way in early in-person voting, only that “it’s very popular.”

No lines, or campaign volunteers hawking candidates

That sentiment poured from the mouths of a handful of voters WHYY News interviewed at the Claymont site. They could get in and out quickly, with no lines to speak of. And while political signs covered the grounds, no campaign workers were there to push their candidates.

Garth Warner, of Brandywine Hundred, traveled a few miles from his home to get it done.

“I’m just afraid of crazy this year,” said Warner, a Democrat. “I want to make sure that my vote counts. I want to make sure it’s in early. And my whole family’s going to do it early.”

A man poses outside of a polling station.
Garth Warner said he was determined to get his vote in early, and said the reset of his family is doing the same. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Warner said he often splits the ticket between Democrats and Republican candidates, but because of the prevalence of “election deniers” and others working to suppress the votes of fellow Black residents, he voted straight Democrat.

“I would say there’s only one choice now,” he said, “and we’ve got to protect our country.”

Manelski and Whitney are Republicans, but said they voted only for GOP candidates for the same reason as Warner.

Manelski, who said she lives near Biden in Greenville, said the president’s Democratic Party is ruining America.

“The country’s going down the tubes. It really is,” she said. “There’s so much that needs to be done to bring us back to our country.”

Whitney said Delaware voters, who have installed Democrats in all nine statewide elective seats, are hurting the state. “To continue voting the same way and expecting different results is insane,” she said.

But regardless of party affiliation or ideology, voters seemed happy to cast their ballots at their leisure.

A woman poses outside of a building.
Paula Seeney touted the ease of early in-person voting. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Retiree Virginia Bowers said she learned about the new system from neighbors who used it.

“It’s very convenient,” she said. “I had to go to the post office, so I just came here thinking, well, see if there’s a long line. And it wasn’t.”

A woman poses outside of a building.
Virginia Bowers said she voted early after her neighbors told her about it. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Paula Seeney, a state auditor who works at the polls as a judge on Election Day, agreed.

Voting a week early, Seeney said, “makes it easier for everyone. Casually. It won’t be such a rush on the actual Election Day.”

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