With less than three weeks left before it faces extinction in the state Senate, supporters of a same-day voter registration bill met Friday in Dover to urge lawmakers to pass the bill.
The act, formally House Bill 105, less formally the Same Day Voter Registration Act, would allow Delaware residents to register and vote as a polling place on the same day of an election.
Currently voters must register before the fourth Saturday prior to the election.
Introduced in the House of Representatives last April, the legislation, with two amendments, went to the Senate on April 3, 2014. It will expire if not passed by the end of the current legislative session on June 30.
The proposal would apply to presidential primaries, as well as primary, special and general elections, and would become effective on Jan. 1, 2016.
“There are too many Delawareans who are eligible to vote but who have not registered,” said Kate Atkins, spokeswoman for the Delaware Alliance for Community Advancement. “We feel the current law creates an unnecessary hurdle for people who want to vote.”
Opponents, however, feel there is no problem to fix; moreover, it could open the election process to people who would register and vote fraudulently.
There already are seven ways to register to vote in the state, including signing up when registering a vehicle, said State Rep. Tim Dukes, (R-Laurel), in an April statement published by the House Republican Caucus.
The 11 states and the District of Columbia already have passed similar legislation and have seen an increase in voter turnout, Atkins said.
“We feel it should be as easy as possible for people to vote,” she said.
If adopted, HB 105 would require prospective voters to present a valid government-issued photo card or some other form of identification, to include a utility bill, bank statement or other document showing the person’s name and address.
House Minority Leader Rep. Daniel Short, (R-Seaford) felt the bill could overburden poll workers trying to confirm a prospective registrant’s eligibility. Another reason, Short said, was that some of the required documentation could easily be created on any home computer.
Instead, Republicans suggested same-day voters fill out provisional ballots, which would be counted after they were thoroughly vetted.
“Not even the sponsors of the bill have been able to make a compelling case as to why this is needed and who is being excluded from voting under the current system,” Short said. “Having said that, if you want to implement election day voting, what is the argument against using a provisional ballot? It would allow accomplish the stated goal – maximizing the opportunity for citizens to vote – while ensuring the integrity of the system.
“If there is a reason that’s a bad idea, it’s eluding me.”
Atkins said voter fraud in those states that already have same day registration has not emerged as an issue.
“The real problem is that people aren’t voting,” she said. “The priority should be to streamline the process so everyone eligible can cast a ballot.
“Maybe there are legislators with genuine procedural concerns, but we hope they’re not just protecting their own incumbency,” she said.
However, in addition to the DACA, HB 105 has the backing of the Central Delaware Branch of the NAACP and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Dover and Vicinity.
IMA President the Rev. Michael Rogers told the group that while laws confer the right to vote, in his opinion some also can hinder that right. Such is the case in Delaware.
“Same day registration gives people a chance to register and to vote legally,” he said.
HB 105’s fate in the Senate is far from certain, if its record in the House is an indication. In addition to a solid Republican block in opposition, two Democrats voted against the bill; it moved to the Senate with 24 affirmative votes, three more than necessary.
HB 105 already has support from Gov. Jack Markell, said Jonathan Dworkin, communications adviser for Markell’s officer.
“The governor is very supportive of same-day registration,” Dworkin said. “It involves more people in the political process in a responsible way and we should take that opportunity.”