Panel Continues Review of Delaware Election Laws - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Panel Continues Review of Delaware Election Laws

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WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Members of a task force charged with reviewing Delaware's election laws seemed to agree Wednesday that there's no need for a law requiring political candidates to undergo criminal background checks.
    
Background checks for candidates are among several issues that have been explored by the task force, formed by lawmakers earlier this year to conduct a comprehensive review of Delaware's elections and make recommendations on how to improve them. The panel is to submit its report in March.
    
The issue of background checks came up after New Castle County elections officials ruled last year that Derrick Johnson, pastor of Joshua Harvest Church in Wilmington, was ineligible to run for mayor of Wilmington because he had served prison time for manslaughter - an "infamous crime" that officials determined prevented him from holding office, despite a later pardon.
    
"The only reason we knew about it was because he was so open about it," said state elections commissioner, the chair of the task force.
    
But Andrew Lippstone, chief counsel to Democratic Gov. Jack Markell and a member of the task force, suggested Wednesday that Delaware's political system is good at ferreting out problems in candidates' backgrounds without requiring them to submit background checks as a criteria for running for office.
    
Republican state Sen. Colin Bonini of Dover agreed.
    
"I think the rough-and-tumble business we're in is really going to self-police this," he said.
    
Task force members also discussed how to ensure that convicted felons have met the criteria for restoration of their voting rights before being allowed to vote.
    
Lawmakers earlier this year gave final approval to a constitutional amendment eliminating the five-year waiting period before eligible felons who have completed their sentences and paid all fines, fees and restitution can vote again.
    
Elections officials check the state criminal justice database to determine whether a convicted felon is eligible to vote, but Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove expressed concern that a felon who owes fines or restitution related to a separate misdemeanor conviction may be found ineligible, even though he has satisfied the sentencing requirements for the felony conviction.
    
"I'm suggesting we take the fines out of the process," Manlove said, adding that she would check with court officials to see if financial accounting for felonies and misdemeanors can be differentiated.
    
Task force members also discussed whether to do away with a requirement that people seeking absentee ballots for certain reasons submit notarized affidavits. The current law requires notarization of affidavits in some cases, but not in others. Verification by a notary is required for people seeking absentee ballots for religious reasons, because they are incarcerated, or because they will be on vacation or business on election day. But notarization is not required for those requesting absentee ballots because they are sick, disabled, in the military or serving the state.
    
Panel members also discussed the idea of allowing early voting in Delaware.
    
Manlove said early voting would amount to "no-excuse" absentee voting and could require amending the state constitution, which sets out the reasons for absentee voting.

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