Record turnout in Delaware primary shows Dems much more willing to vote-by-mail

More than half of Delaware Democrats voted by mail. For Republicans, less than 25% of ballots were mailed in.

A person drops into a mail box applications for mail-in ballots

A person drops into a mail box applications for mail-in ballots, in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Nearly 120,000 votes were cast by Democrats in the race for U.S. Senate between incumbent Chris Coons and progressive challenger Jess Scarane. That’s the most votes cast in a primary election by a wide margin. More than 34% of Democrats voted, well above the record percentage recorded in 2008 when 28% of Dems came out to help Jack Markell narrowly defeat now-Gov. John Carney in the gubernatorial primary.

The previous record for the number of voters was set in 2018 when more than 83,000 votes were cast by Democrats. That year, absentee ballots only made up less than 5% of the total. This year, more than 63,000 Dems mailed in their ballots, about 52%.

“I think we always knew there was a lot of enthusiasm heading into the election cycle and that turnout was going to be pretty robust for Democrats,” said Jesse Chadderdon, executive director of the Delaware Democratic Party. “I think we’re all pleasantly surprised how quickly our electorate gravitated toward this new system of voting and embraced it.”

Democrats cast well more than double the number of votes on the Republican side, where 53,958 voted in the contest Lauren Witzke won over James DeMartino. That translates to about 27% turnout for the GOP.

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Democrats were also much more likely to use the state’s new vote-by-mail system. Little more than 12,500 Republicans mailed their votes, or 23% of GOP votes.

The hesitancy of Republicans to use vote-by-mail could be the result of state and national GOP leaders questioning the security of mailing votes and the potential for voter fraud. In July, President Trump tweeted that mail-in voting will lead to the “most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history.” He also suggested that the election be delayed, something he doesn’t have the power to do.

The Delaware Republican Party has also taken aim at mail-in voting. In August, party chair Jane Brady sued the state, claiming a bill allowing mail-in voting this year is unconstitutional.

“Vote-by-mail has a terrible history replete with fraud,” Brady said, echoing Trump’s claims. “Delaware need not experience the corruption associated with that fraud.”

Despite the lawsuit and almost in contrast to its intent, Brady said anyone who fears their health would be adversely affected by going to the polls in person, should be able to do that by mailing in their ballot.

“We would encourage them to vote remotely,” Brady said.

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Chadderdon said that mixed messaging and efforts to “demonize” the mail-by-vote process may have backfired for Republicans in the primary.

“I’m not sure that’s a very good long-term strategy for them if they want to be competitive with us in November,” he said.

After his primary win Tuesday night, Sen. Coons said Trump and U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have work to do to build confidence in the ability of the postal service to handle ballots sent through the mail.

“As long as we have a president and postmaster general who publicly make statements that suggest there should be a lack of confidence in the vote-by-mail process, we’re going to have challenges,” Coons said. “Given that we’re fewer than 50 days before the general election, it may be too late to fully restore the confidence of voters.”

The record-setting primary could set the stage for another massive turnout in November, especially with Joe Biden, a Delawarean at the very top of the Democratic ticket for the first time in history.

“I think it really emphasizes the enthusiasm we have on our side,” said Erik Raser-Schramm, chairman of the state Dems. “The enthusiasm gap you’re seeing now between us and the Republicans is massive, and Biden’s not even on the ballot this go around.”

Enthusiasm differences aside, Republicans running statewide in Delaware face a significant uphill battle due to the dominance of Democrats in voter registration. Democrats account for 47% of all registered voters. Republicans make up just 27% of possible voters.

Delaware’s mail-in voting wasn’t without hiccups, though.

Not everyone got their mail-in ballots in time, including Carney Cabinet Secretary Molly Magarik. The head of the Dept. of Health and Social Services said she never received her ballot in the mail, so she went to her local polling place to vote in-person.

“The lovely and very accommodating volunteers politely said, ‘Ma’am, we already sent you an absentee ballot, and we actually have to call and verify with the commissioner of elections office that the ballot had not been received before we can let you vote,’” Magarik said.

After confirming that the ballot had not been mailed in, Magarik was allowed to vote.

Gov. Carney said he was confident in the state Dept. of Elections ability to prevent double-voting, or people voting via mail and in person.

“I don’t have any question whatsoever … that there’s going to be any double-counting because of the people at the polls,” he said.

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