Phillips: Time to remove obstacles for voters
When the 150th General Assembly convened last January, it went to work on a slate of bipartisan proposals to reform Delaware’s elections system. These efforts caught the attention of Sen. Gerald Hocker, who recently wrote a fiery op-ed condemning the proposed changes, stating that “Delaware faces many challenges, and we have our share of problems,” but “our system of voting isn’t one of them.”
Sen. Hocker is wrong. He fails to recognize the sober reality that too often voters are burdened or outright excluded by the current laws governing the state’s elections. Sadly, Delawareans disadvantaged by the state’s elections system are largely those who are least able to advocate for themselves in Dover. They are shift-workers, students, the elderly, or Delawareans working multiple jobs to make ends meet. They deserve our state legislators to take seriously the challenges of voting, and they deserve the ability to participate in their state’s elections.
Most states recognize the obstacles which make voting burdensome and utilize absentee voting to accommodate such situations. Delaware falls short. While a recently passed bill to allow early voting up to 10 days prior to an election is a step forward, it is a small step. It still requires voters to travel to a polling site — and there will only be four sites in the state.
The elderly and people with disabilities may have difficulty traveling to their polling places. Shift-workers may not be able to get off from work when polls are open. Some are so financially strapped that they cannot afford to take time off from work to cast a ballot. And in rural areas, some would-be voters cannot access transportation to the polls.
In his article, Sen. Hocker condemns efforts to accommodate disadvantaged, would-be voters. He writes that it is their “responsibility” to get to the polls. But in reality, the state of Delaware has failed in its responsibility to make voting accessible and inclusive for all eligible citizens.
Senator Hocker claims that “we have a great elections system in Delaware.” The facts show that Delaware can do better. The disheartening reality is that Delaware is one of only 19 states that requires an affidavit-verified excuse for absentee voting. Delaware’s voter turnout is depressed as a result.
The impact of the state’s exclusionary elections system was apparent in 2018 when Delaware ranked 26th in voter participation. In that year, only 51.4% of the state’s eligible voters cast ballots. Comparatively, Colorado, Main, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, and Wisconsin all had turnouts of more than 60 percent.
Simply put, The First State is lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to our elections system, and the voices of many would-be voters are silenced because of it. Voting is the bedrock of our representative democracy, without which, our elected legislators can hardly claim the consent of those they govern. Bipartisan efforts to reform Delaware’s elections system should be lauded and Sen. Hocker should review the facts before fighting to preserve the exclusionary laws which presently govern the state’s elections.
Voting Reform Committee Chair
Progressive Democrats of Sussex County