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Delaware primary election reforms debated by legislature

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Delaware primary election reforms debated by legislature

Jun 13, 2024 | 7:13 am ET
By Karl Baker
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In 2026, Delaware may no longer be among the three U.S. states holding the country’s latest primary elections.

But, it will likely remain among the roughly dozen states that continue to restrict voters who are not registered as Democrats or Republicans from participating in those dominant parties’ primaries.   

On Wednesday, lawmakers in the House of Representatives’ Administration Committee voted to advance House Bill 400 that would move Delaware’s primary election date to late April from the current early September schedule in order for it to coincide with Delaware’s presidential primary election date.

In a committee hearing Wednesday, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden (D-Wilmington), asserted that the measure would increase voter participation and save Delaware about $1 million during years in which the state also holds a presidential primary.  

“This bill has no fiscal note, again no fiscal note,” Bolden said during the committee hearing on Wednesday, meaning that the change does not come with a cost to taxpayers.

Following Bolden’s remarks, the bipartisan committee members present at the hearing voted unanimously in favor of the measure, moving it on to be considered by the full House of Representatives.

The committee’s vote followed a resolution passed Tuesday by the New Castle County Council, urging state lawmakers to approve Bolden’s bill.

Also on Wednesday, members of the House Administration Committee engaged in a lively debate about another election bill – House Bill 43, which would open the state’s primaries to politically unaffiliated voters.

In testimony to the committee, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Michael Smith (R-Newark), acknowledged that his bill likely is not “popular with parties.” But, he argued that it would expand primary voting access to the roughly 28% of Delaware voters who do not identify as a Republican or a Democrat.

As of last month, a total of 219,291 registered voters in Delaware were politically unaffiliated, according to the state Department of Elections. There were 775,524 registered voters in total.

During the committee hearing, Smith’s bill and his testimony faced pushback from Democratic members. Speaker of the House Valerie Longhurst noted there were no supporters of the bill from the community who attended the hearing.

Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown (D-New Castle) questioned why a problem of primary election access couldn’t be addressed by giving voters the ability to register with a party on the day of an election. 

In response, Smith said voters would then be stuck in that registration, arguing that his bill is their “path of least resistance.” 

In 2022, Delaware’s Supreme Court struck down the state’s same-day registration law as unconstitutional. 

Speaking in support of Smith’s bill on Tuesday was fellow Republican, Rep. Mike Ramone (R-Pike Creek), who indicated that he might never have become a Republican had he been able to vote in primaries as an independent. 

“If I were an independent, and I had that opportunity, I never would have jumped in a party or another,” said Ramone, who currently is running to be Delaware’s next governor. 

Following the comments, the Administration Committee voted against advancing Smith’s bill to the full House of the Representatives.