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Delaware court shoots down early voting law

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(The Center Square) — A Delaware Superior Court judge has struck down the state’s early and mail voting laws, siding with Republicans who argued that the statutes violated the state constitution.

In a new ruling, Superior Court judge Mark Conner rejected a request by Delaware’s election commissioner, Anthony Albence, and the state Department of Elections to dismiss a complaint alleging that the early voting and permanent absentee voting statutes violate the First State’s Constitution.

“The enactments of the General Assembly challenged today are inconsistent with our Constitution and therefore cannot stand,” Conner wrote in the 25-page ruling.

“This decision is not made lightly, and it should be noted that the spirit and goals of the challenged legislation are not what are being ruled on today,” he added. “Nothing in this opinion and order should be read to suggest that polices intended to support the enfranchisement and inclusion of voters in Delaware are per se unconstitutional.”

A lawsuit filed by plaintiffs Michael Mennella and Delaware Senate Republican minority leader Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, had challenged the constitutionality of early and absentee voting laws.

The lawsuit followed a 2022 ruling by the state Supreme Court, which determined that the state’s vote-by-mail statute “impermissibly” expanded categories of absentee voters in Delaware’s Constitution. In that ruling, the high court also said a same-day registration law conflicts with the registration periods spelled out in the Constitution.

Delaware’s Constitution allows “absentee” voting if a person cannot go to the polls on Election Day because of his or her public service, business or occupation because of sickness or physical disability, vacation, or if they claim religious objections.

Conner’s ruling noted that the state Constitution set only one day for general elections, which conflicts with the state’s early voting statute, allowing at least 10 days of early balloting. He said the Legislature exceeded its authority by approving the expanded mail and early voting law.

He also determined that the state’s early voting statute failed to meet a constitutional mandate to ensure the “secrecy and the independence of the voter, preserve the freedom and purity of elections and prevent fraud, corruption and intimidation.”

Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, Delaware’s lone House member, blasted the court’s decision and blamed “Republican extremists” whom she said “will stop at nothing to attack our access to the ballot box.” The Democrat, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat, said the ruling is “an urgent reminder that we need federal voting rights protections.”

“Free, fair, and more accessible elections make a stronger democracy,” she said in a statement. “It’s fundamental to who we are as Americans.”

Delaware’s presidential primary is set for April 2nd. The statewide primary will be held on Sept. 10th.

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