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Voting rights groups react to ruling against Delaware's vote-by-mail law

This story was originally published by Delaware Public Media.

The court ruling Delaware’s vote-by-mail law unconstitutional halts its use this November, but some voting rights advocates hope there’s time to appeal before the general election.

Vice Chancellor Nathan Cook’s decision indicates a path for appeal to Delaware’s Supreme Court, where ACLU Legal Director Dwayne Bensing believes the state would win a reversal. And he believes there is time to make that happen before November.

Mail-in ballots are not scheduled to be sent out for another month, so Bensing says there is no reason for voters to panic or change their plans just yet. But even if the decision is reversed, he says the damage has been done to confuse voters.

“It’s concerning that it’s happening right here in Delaware," Bensing said. "We really need to see these attacks for what they are. They are calculated and strategic attacks on our democracy. It’s really disheartening to see arguments made that are really akin to the same kinds of voting restrictions that our country has rejected time and time again when it comes to this kind of right-wing extremism of only allowing a certain subset of our citizenry to vote.”

He adds that to increase participation in voting and democracy, voting options have to be expanded for everyone.

Bensing argues the difference absentee voting and vote-by-mail is important as a legal matter. The court ruled that vote-by-mail alters the exhaustive list of absentee excuses, but Bensing says they are completely different.

“Unfortunately this is where I think the court got it wrong," Bensing said. "Absentee voters get a broader timeline for when they can request an absentee ballot. They also have fewer identification requirements than in the vote by mail statute. And actually there's also another mechanism to cast a ballot electronically if they're eligible. None of those things are included in the boat by mail statute that was passed last session.”

Jill Itzkowitz chairs the voting and elections portfolio for the League of Women’s Voters. She says the decision will create even more confusion among voters.

“People are confused anyways because we had two years of COVID where we had vote-by-mail. And most people thought that was permanent so they’d be surprised to know that it wasn’t permanent. We’ll have to train them also on the new enhancements in voting, we want early voting to be popular.”

Itzkowitz notes that one in four Delawareans voted by mail in this week’s primary election.

The League of Women Voters’ goal is to make voting easier, and Itzkowitz notes states with vote-by-mail have significantly higher turnout.