Posted: Sept. 4, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There has been a lot of weird stuff going on in Delaware elections.

No, not Tom Carper, the 66-year-old Democratic senior senator, doing pushups last year at a Kent County political dinner to show he was hail and hearty enough for another term, although it certainly was weird.

Not weird enough to go viral on YouTube, though. Anthony Weiner, even fully clothed, yes. Tom Carper, especially fully clothed, no.

This weird stuff is about the ballot.

Libertarian candidates running for two different offices at the same time, like insurance commissioner and Sussex County clerk of the peace. A candidate trying to file for a legislative race as a Democrat, a Republican and a Libertarian, but settling for running on the Libertarian and another minor-party ticket after a judge intervened.

Also the unforgettable spectacle of the Republicans rushing to court last year for the right to substitute a candidate to replace Eric Bodenweiser, who had won a primary for state senator, only to take himself off the ballot as he was about to be indicted for child sex abuse.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled the Republicans could replace Bodenweiser, although the justices noted it was not unreasonable for election officials to have read the law to say the Republicans could not.

What all this weird stuff shows is the election law is a mess. It could do with a Big Fix.

One is coming. A task force to review the election law, Title 15 of the Delaware Code, was created in June by the General Assembly. Its work can be expected to be taken seriously, because its prime backers are Patti Blevins, the Democratic president pro tem in the Senate, and Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker in the House of Representatives.

Elaine Manlove, the election commissioner, is the chair. There are also four legislators on the task force -- namely, Margaret Rose Henry, the Senate Democratic majority whip; Colin Bonini, a Republican senator; Debbie Hudson, the House Republican minority whip; and Earl Jaques, a Democratic representative.

Andy Lippstone, the counsel to Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, is also on it, and the deputy attorney general assigned to the Election Department is a non-voting member. The task force has asked attorneys for the Senate, the House, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party to participate, as well. Its recommendations are due by the end of March.

The task force, which is weighted toward the Democrats, as is the state, is not supposed to be a battleground for some of the explosive election issues of the day, although there is really no telling what can happen with four legislators and six lawyers in the room.

It is not supposed to be about same-day registration, for example, or about voter ID laws. (Delaware actually has a weak voter identification law, requiring voters to show some sort of identification but letting them vote by provisional ballot if they do not.)

As Manlove, the election commissioner, explained, "This is really a legitimate cleanup. We've put band-aids on Title 15 for years, and this is the opportunity to look it over in a whole new era."

Not even Bonini, who votes against just about anything the Senate Democrats want to do, is suspicious. "I think clearly Patti's intent is there is a lot of stuff that needs to get fixed. A lot of the election law is outdated and doesn't reflect the current realities," he said.

In a number of ways, elections here are not in bad shape.

Delaware does not have lines, taking hours to get through, at its polling places, as other states have experienced, and it has never had a problem with hanging chad throwing a presidential election into doubt.

The electronic voting machines have been regarded as trustworthy since they were first used in 1996, and the motor-voter procedures, allowing registration at the motor vehicle lanes, work so well that Manlove was invited to describe them to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration at a hearing this week in Philadelphia.

The task force intends to look at a host of matters, including registration, ballot access, primary and general elections, special elections, absentee ballots, early voting and campaign finance.

It could take a lot of weird stuff out, but not enough to keep Tom Carper from doing pushups.