- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 13, 2019

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Proposals to allow early voting and same-day registration passed their first hurdles in Delaware’s legislature on Wednesday.

One of the bills released to the full House after a committee hearing establishes in-person early voting, starting Jan. 1, 2022. The proposal allows registered voters to cast ballots at least 10 days before an election at locations - at least one in each county and the city of Wilmington - to be determined by the state elections commissioner.

“Delaware is in a dwindling minority of states that don’t offer this service to their residents,” said chief sponsor Rep. David Bentz, D-Bear. He noted that 38 states allow early voting.

Bentz dismissed concerns that the move could face a legal challenge because Delaware’s constitution defines election day as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Maryland’s Supreme Court struck down an early-voting law in 2006, noting that the state’s constitution required people to vote on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and in the wards or election districts where they lived. Maryland residents subsequently voted to amend the constitution to allow early voting.

Bentz said 21 states with early voting have constitutions with virtually the same language as Delaware’s, and that there have been no adverse court rulings.

Supporters of the early voting proposal include Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, although Common Cause says early voting should last 20 days, not 10, and should take effect in 2020, not 2022.

Meanwhile, the Democrat-led committee also released a bill allowing same-day registration, currently allowed in 17 other states.

“We should be finding ways to allow people to vote, and not blocking them,” said chief sponsor Rep. John Viola, D-Newark.

Under the measure, a person could show up at a polling place on Election Day and register to vote with a government-issued photo ID, or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or “other government document” displaying the person’s name and address.

Republican House Minority Leader Danny Short questioned whether people should be allowed to register on election day without a government ID. He noted that when he sends thank-you cards to people in his district who have registered to vote, roughly 10 percent of them are returned as undeliverable.

Viola indicated that he was open to possibly revising the bill to address Short’s concerns.

The committee also voted along party lines to release a bill under which Delaware would join other states wanting to pool their Electoral College votes for the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote. Currently, Delaware’s three Electoral College votes go to winner of the state’s popular vote.

“This is about making sure that the highest office in the land reflects the will of the majority of the people,” said Bentz, a co-sponsor of the measure, which passed the Senate last week and is up for a House vote Thursday.

Eleven Democratic-leaning states and the District of Columbia have already agreed to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Bills adding Colorado and New Mexico to the list are awaiting signatures by their governors, which would give the compact 186 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to elect the president.

The initiative was launched in 2006 after Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 but lost the presidential election to Republican George Bush, sparking renewed criticism of the Electoral College system. The movement, which gained steam after Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in 2016, is an attempt to establish direct popular election of the president without having to amend the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College.

Supporters of the measure say that, under the current winner-take-all format used in 48 states, presidential candidates take solidly red or blue states for granted and focus their time and money on roughly a dozen “battleground” or “swing” states. If enough states give their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner - regardless of the preferences of voters in those individual states - candidates would battle for vote margins in states that are currently ignored, advocates say.

Opponents say the initiative is an end-run around the Constitution that would disenfranchise voters who don’t live in the major population centers that would be targeted by candidates.

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