Yesterday, September 12, 2022, in partnership with the Prisoners’ Legal Advocacy Network (PLAN) and the Delaware State Conference of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP-DE), we sent a letter to the Delaware Department of Corrections (DDOC) calling for changes in prison voting systems and practices to allow eligible incarcerated voters to exercise their right to vote by absentee ballot. Our letter makes clear that DDOC officials have a legal responsibility to ensure eligible voters may cast a ballot, and they are currently failing to meet those obligations.
The concerns raised in the letter were previously addressed at an internal meeting between DDOC officials, Senator Marie Pinkney, Representative Eric Morrison, Department of Elections Commissioner Anthony Albence, and advocates including representatives from ACLU-DE and PLAN on August 17, 2022. At that meeting, we sought clarity regarding how eligible voters in DDOC custody would have access to voter registration forms, absentee voter applications, and absentee ballots. What we discovered was appalling: an ongoing lack of action to address issues that are barring all eligible voters from exercising their right to vote while incarcerated.
In the meeting on August 17, advocates offered to assist the DDOC in ensuring that eligible voters in DDOC custody were provided an opportunity to register to vote, request absentee ballots, and return absentee ballots, as is required by law. We offered support in providing programming for eligible voters incarcerated in DDOC facilities and DDOC mailroom employees. We volunteered to assist incarcerated Delawareans in determining if they are eligible to vote, registering to vote, and/or requesting an absentee ballot, and to dispatch voter registrars to DDOC facilities to assist with voter registration and hand-delivering forms to avoid the obstacles and uncertainties created by paper mail — a concern raised by Commissioner Albence.
On September 6, 2022, we learned through Sen. Marie Pinkney that DDOC had rejected PLAN’s proposed remedial measures and would not permit advocates, or anyone else, to assist DDOC employees or eligible voters in DDOC custody. The DDOC’s current restrictions on eligible voters’ access to voter registration materials and absentee voter applications and ballots create an unreasonable and unjustifiable burden on our democracy’s most fundamental constitutional guarantee: the right to vote.
Here’s a quote from Dwayne Bensing, our legal director, on the ongoing, systemic barriers to voting:
“DDOC’s ongoing interference with the constitutional voting rights of eligible voters held in DDOC facilities is unacceptable. Officials have stated they plan to use the same measures in 2022 as implemented during the 2020 presidential election, where it appears not a single incarcerated voter successfully cast a ballot. The right to vote is sacred in our nation, and these officials must do better.”
With less than two months remaining for eligible voters to register to vote, request an absentee ballot, and return that ballot in time for the November 8, 2022 General Election, we’re calling for these changes as a matter of urgent concern. We’ve asked for DDOC to provide reasonable assurances of the following no later than Monday, September 19, 2022:
- Eligible voters were provided an opportunity to register to vote and request and return an absentee ballot in the 2022 Primary Election concluded on September 13, 2022 and the means by which such opportunities were afforded; and
- Eligible voters will be provided an opportunity to register to vote and request and return an absentee ballot in the 2022 General Election concluding on November 8, 2022, by:
- Providing accurate voter registration and absentee ballot request and return information to all eligible voters in DDOC custody;
- Training and monitoring all mailroom employees’ understanding of the proper procedures for immediately processing any voter registration forms and absentee voter requests or ballots;
- Training and monitoring all DDOC employees’ understanding of the proper procedures for immediately providing any necessary voter registration forms and identification documents, absentee voter applications, and absentee ballots;
- Identifying and correcting all unreasonable and unjustifiable barriers that prevented eligible voters from successfully casting an absentee ballot in the 2020 General Election; and
- Permitting PLAN, Coalition Partners, and/or other voting rights advocates access to provide educational information and any other assistance to eligible voters in DDOC custody to successfully cast an absentee ballot.
Our message is clear: DDOC is on notice. Failure to provide the requested assurances may result in further legal action.
Read the full letter here or in the PDF reader below.
For more information on voting in Delaware, visit VoteDelaware.org.