You’ll need to mark ‘sick’ to vote by mail in Delaware’s Tuesday primary

Voting sticker

Voting sticker (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

Delaware lawmakers last week approved expanding vote-by-mail in the state to give all registered voters that option without requiring an excuse — but it won’t be ready for Tuesday’s presidential primary.

However, the option of voting by mail is available to all registered voters in the state.

In May, Gov. John Carney issued an executive order that sent absentee ballots to all registered voters and allowed them to mark “sick” or “temporarily or permanently physically disabled” so they could still participate in the presidential primary if they did not want to vote in person. Absentee ballots are due by 8 p.m. Tuesday.

And while some traditional in-person polling locations won’t be open Tuesday because of coronavirus restrictions, the state Department of Election lists locations in New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties where polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Under a new law Carney signed last week, all voters will be able to submit their ballots by mail without an excuse in the statewide primary in September.

The change is designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among voters at the polls.

“Voting is a right, and it’s not a privilege. We should never have to choose between our health or the right to vote,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst. “It’s completely an option for them and is just an opportunity for us to say, ‘Let’s make sure everybody is safe in the upcoming election with this pandemic that’s going on.’”

Under the new law, the Dept. of Elections will mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters at least 60 days before the election. For the September 15 statewide primary, that 60-day deadline for applications to be sent to voters is the middle of July.

“I believe, and I know others do, that this is a great day for democracy in the state of Delaware,” said Senate President Pro Tem. David McBride last week as Gov. John Carney signed the legislation in an online meeting. “It just guarantees that no one will choose between risking their health and participating in a fair, open and secure election.”

The Department of Election estimates it will cost $3 per ballot for printing, processing and mailing. It’s expected to cost another $25,000 for the equipment and workers needed to process the ballots when they’re returned. That makes the total cost for mail-in voting this election year to $829,000. The state expects to be able to use federal dollars through the CARES Act to pay those costs.

“This piece of legislation, frankly, is more important than ever as we approach the election season coming up this fall,” Carney said. “Such a critically important constitutional right of every Delaware citizen, protected now by this vote-by-mail piece of legislation enabling them to protect their own health and the health of their neighbors and exercise their right to vote.”

The new law also requires election officials to set up an online tool for voters to find out if their mail-in ballot application was received, when their ballot was sent and if their ballot was counted.

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