On November 6, 2018, I’m voting in person at the polls in Wilmington, DE. In Delaware you have two options for voting - on election day in-person or via absentee ballot. The state doesn’t have early voting. Voting by absentee ballot in Delaware requires that you provide a valid excuse. Some states allow for absentee ballots without an excuse provided. But any form of absentee voting should not be confused with voting early by mail. I have two major points of contention with Delaware’s current voting policies:
1) Lack of early voting
2) Closed Primaries, which means only party-affiliated voters may vote in their party’s primaries.
These policies are set state-by-state and Delaware is just one of 10 States that conducts closed primaries for both state and congressional primaries and just one of 13 states that does not offer an early voting option.
I’m voting November 6th come hell or high water
1) because midterm elections really matter
2) It’s my American right and it is a right that was long denied to black voters and women in Delaware and the United States and is still threatened today through voter suppression. Reports of voter suppression targeting black Americans has already been reported during this year’s midterm elections.
Last year in December, Phillip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights visited the USA. Alston addressed issues of voter disenfranchisement, asserting that the “net result is that people living in poverty, minorities, and other disfavored groups are being systematically deprived of their voting rights.” (Southern Poverty Law Center). Reports of voter suppression targeting black Americans has already been reported during early voting in this year’s midterm elections (PBS.org).
Today in Delaware you can vote if you meet the following criteria:
United States Citizen
Resident of Delaware (proof required)
18 years of age
If you are a felon and have completed your sentence and were not convicted of a disqualifying felony (murder, manslaughter, any felony against public administration involving bribery, improper influence or abuse of offices or any like offense, or felony constituting a sexual offense or any like offense).
Current state legislation allows 16 year olds to register to vote through the Division of Motor Vehicles at the time they first apply for their driver’s license and they are then eligible to vote in a general election once they have turned 18. (League of Women Voters of Delaware).
Delaware’s Flawed Past
Delaware prides itself on being the first state to ratify the new United States Constitution and proudly claims its status as “the first state” even displaying it on state issued plates. But Delaware's major fails on behalf of African Americans and women are an appalling departure from the state’s earlier history of boldly signing on the dotted line to actually ratify the nation’s constitution.
Delaware is on both sides of the Mason Dixon line. Residents of the state utilized slaves, and during the Civil War Delaware was one of five border states. This meant Delaware fought on the side of the Union, but still had legalized slavery. Delaware has a complicated history with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments because it didn’t ratify them until 1901.
Quick recap of these Amendments:
13th Amendment (1865) - abolished slavery
14th Amendment (1868) - granted citizenship to African Americans
15th Amendment (1870) - guaranteed the right to vote (at least in theory)
Delaware was 30+ years late to the table in ratifying these Amendments and additionally retained slavery in Delaware for two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. In the 1862, 1864 and 1865 elections, federal troops were sent to guard Delaware polling places, which Democrats (the old Democratic party) vehemently opposed at the time. Quick Civics Reminder: at this time in U.S. history Abraham Lincoln was a member of the Republican party (the old Republican party).
After African Americans were granted citizenship and guaranteed the right to vote, Delaware took direct action against black Delawareans, legitimizing a segregated education system in its constitution and enacting an abundance of discriminatory practices. The state’s struggle with integration continued until the 1960s. Delaware citizens were part of the filing in the Brown v. Board case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled separate educational facilities unconstitutional. And as recently as 20 years ago, Delaware real estate firms were still transferring deeds containing restrictive covenants, prohibitions against the sale of property to those of color (Delaware Online).
The 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote was passed by Congress in 1919. After the Amendment was ratified by Congress, at least 36 states needed to vote in favor of it for it to become law. Again, Delaware was on the wrong side of history, rejecting the amendment in 1920. It was Tennessee that became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, making women’s suffrage legal across the entire country. It wasn’t until March 6, 1923 that Delaware finally showed it’s support for women’s suffrage by belatedly ratifying the 19th Amendment.
Midterm Elections Matter
The 2018 midterm elections will affect our lives just as much as the presidential races of 2016 and 2020, but fewer people vote in midterms. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent blog post addressed myths about voting (Southern Poverty Law Center). Reminding voters that midterm elections do count because local politicians and the policies they set have a huge impact on our day-to-day life. Our governors, mayors, prosecutors, judges, state and national representatives make decisions about everything from our water to state tuition costs, police training to student loans.
Every vote IS counted AND matters. Although Americans may feel skeptical about the importance of our votes in this age of widespread attempts at voter suppression (hello Georgia, Florida and Alabama) and frequent claims of voter fraud (which actually is extremely rare) a close race could be settled by just one vote. The Southern Poverty Law Center cites examples from Ohio in which 59 races and ballot initiatives were close or settled by only one vote. Most states have rules on the books to deal with close votes because they are actually really common. In Virginia a perfect tie in one race meant party control of the House of Delegates was decided by drawing a name out of a hat (I kid you not). Your midterm voted could be the difference between an elected official being chosen by the people versus one chosen by drawing straws or cutting a deck of cards. (Southern Poverty Law Center).
In Delaware, the times they may be a changin’ (fingers crossed)
Delaware’s delay in the ratification of the crucial Amendments giving the right to vote to black and female voters meant that men and women before me were not legally allowed to vote even after the the passing of the 15th and 19th Amendments. And even after black and female Delawareans were legally allowed to vote, voter suppression practices were known to be used throughout the United States especially to target black voters.
Being back in Delaware for the 2018 midterm elections means I get to witness firsthand Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester’s name on the ballot. Lisa, elected in 2016, is both Delaware’s first female and first African American member of Congress.