Gov. John Carney announced Friday night that he has asked the Delaware National Guard’s 166th Cyberspace Operations Squadron to help the state avoid cyber attacks in the 2020 election.
The squadron will help protect Delaware’s elections infrastructure, a 6:30 p.m. press release from the governor said. He authorized the aid in Executive Order #46. It was signed Thursday.
This is not the first time Carney has approved the help. He OK’d the squad’s assistance for the 2018 primary and general election. An executive order was not used then because no National Guardsmen or women were activated to active duty.
Carney previously has expressed great confidence in the security of Delaware’s election system, including the use of absentee and mail-in ballots.
“This is about accessing the cyber security expertise of the Guard to be proactive about potential cyber threats,” said Carney spokesman Jon Starkey. “The governor is confident that we will have a secure election.”
The states of Washington and Connecticut also have asked their National Guard’s cybersecurity squads to help.
“Throughout our country’s history, Americans have sacrificed to secure voting rights for our fellow citizens,” Carney said in the press release. “We have an obligation to take additional steps to protect that right from any cyber threats. This Executive Order is a proactive measure to do just that.”
Delaware Republican Party Chair Jane Brady said that if Carney was concerned about election security, he should not have supported voting by mail.
“If the governor really cared about the integrity of the voting system in Delaware, he would not have signed a vote by mail bill that imposes a new and confusing system on an unprepared Department of Elections office and the public shortly before an important election,” Brady said. “He would have utilized the absentee ballot system, which has consistently proven to be a way for Delaware citizens to vote remotely. I am please that the governor acknowledges that the vote by mail system raises concerns significant enough to call in the National Guard.”
The release said the squadron will work with the Delaware Department of Elections, the Delaware Department of Technology and Information (DTI) and any other state agency that requests help to:
Provide advice to DTI to prevent, protect and defend against cyber incidents
Monitor and analyze risks or threats
Offer technical and architectural review support for best practices
Respond to any incidents
Train and support after the election
The executive order expires at the end of December.
While the number of Delaware’s COVID-19 cases are continue to rise, they did not rise as sharply in the past week as they had in previous ones.
The state also said Friday that about 30 percent of long-term care facility residents who are diagnosed with COVID-19 die from it. That’s 388 residents out of 1,387 cases.
The Delaware Division of Public Health weekly report said that the seven-day average for the percentage of persons who tested positive for COVID-19 decreased from 6.6% as of Oct. 8, to 5.5% as of Thursday, Oct. 15. The state would like that to be under 3 percent.
It said the number of hospitalizations remains at 104, with 26 people critically ill, up five from last week.
The state reported 11 additional deaths since last week’s update. Of those who have died, 347 were female and 315 were male; 330 people were from New Castle County, 119 from Kent County, and 213 from Sussex County.
The Division of Public Health also said that 22 students and 19 staff members in child care facilities have tested positive between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15. In the same time period, 43 students and 17 staff members in private K-12 schools and 17 students and 62 staff members in public schools also did. The state reports the total number in aggregate and does not break the stats down into weekly slices.
Additional information on COVID-19 cases and deaths can be found on the state’s My Healthy Community data portal at de.gov/healthycommunity.
COVID-19 hot spot areas have cooled off around the state, including in Newark, but public health officials are watching several locations up and down Delaware where positive cases are higher than expected.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said Tuesday during Gov. John Carney’s weekly coronavirus press briefing that the rise in of positive cases of the coronavirus in Newark had slowed, partly because of a sharp decrease in cases related to the University of Delaware.
In the last week, the university has seen less than eight 8 additional cases of COVID-19 on its campus.
The number of coronavirus cases were one of many issues discussed during the press conference, which touched on rising hospitalizations, an increase in testing in the last two weeks and the state’s plan to distribute a vaccine when it is available.
Carney thanked the UD President Dennis Assanis, Newark Mayor Jerry Clifton and the Newark police department for their work in helping to limit the spread of coronavirus in Newark.
Rattay characterized locations the state is monitoring as “warm spots,” including zip code 19801 in Wilmington, Brandywine Hundred, Laurel, Bridgeville, Ellendale, Lewis, Georgetown and Camden-Wyoming.
Among other things that came up:
Social and family activities are risks for positive cases. Rattay talked about a house party in which 50% of susceptible people tested positive afterwards. She detailed another case in which 14 relatives were in the same house with a teenager who had become positive, and nobody wore masks or social distanced. Ultimately, 11 of the others in the house tested positive.
A.J. Schall Jr., director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, said the state tested 34,287 people during the last two weeks, a high number achieved partly because there are many groups being tested, including school workers and students. Carney said the state may reach its “stretch goal” of testing 80,000 people per month.
Carney offered a few more details about the Monday settlement of a lawsuit that means the state will more that double its spending on low income children, children with disabilities and English learning children.
Carney said a rise in hospitalizations is partially attributable to a rise in cases in four Delaware nursing homes, but state contact tracers are investigating why those cases reached the hospital.
The state announced citizens can now see data about hospitalization in each Delaware county on its COVID-19 dashboard.
Carney urged workers to seek out retraining being paid for by federal CARES dollars in high-demand areas such as healthcare, construction, hospitality, transportation, and information technology.
Rattay repeated that the state will now publicize two difference kinds of testing data. One will be the total number of tests and one will be people tested. That will allow two different views of the data and will mesh with frequently reported number from Johns Hopkins University and the CDC. For example: there have been 315,752 Delawareans tested. But those Delawareans have had 486,262 tests because some people have been tested more than once.
Rattay said that the state must send a vaccine plan to the CDC on Friday, that the state will get more definitive strategies from the federal government and that others including hospitals, private doctors and pharmacies will participate in the program. She will continue to release updates about it, she said. The state, she emphasized, will not distribute a vaccine that is not safe and has not gone through the Food and Drug Adminstration approval or received Emergency Use Authorization .
The state of Delaware has agreed to spend tens of millions more a year on special needs students to settle a lawsuit currently pending in Delaware’s Court of Chancery.
One catch: The Delaware General Assembly has to vote to pony up the cash.
A press release from Gov. John Carney’s office characterized the agreement as an investment in Delaware schools, high-needs students and educators to help close the achievement gap.
Those targeted are low income students, students with disabilities, and students who are English learners, said a press release from Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the NAACP of Delaware, who sued the state with the help of the Delaware ACLU, Community Legal Aid Society and he national law firm Arnold & Porter.
That lawsuit had two tracks. One targeted state spending, and the settlement approved by the Delaware Chancery Court Monday settles that portion of it. The settlement must be approved by the state Legislature. If not, the suit goes back to court.
The lawsuit’s other track targeted county-level property taxes, which haven’t been re-evaluated in decades, claiming that was hurting school appropriations and the education of Delaware’s children. The court ruled earlier this that taxes must be re-evaluated, but more proceedings will be needed to determine how and when that will happen.
The lawsuit, filed in 2018, claimed the state had been aware for decades that resources provided to low income students, students with disabilities, and students who are English learners were not adequate and had done nothing about it.
New money for those groups will include:
More than double funding for Opportunity Funding to $60 million annually by Fiscal Year 2025, and make the weighted funding program permanent. Funding will increase automatically with enrollment beyond 2025. The steps are $35 million in fiscal year 2022 and 23; $50 million in fiscal year 2024; and $60 million from fiscal year 2025 on.
Double funding for the Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP) from $6.1 million to $12.2 million.to expand access to affordable early education by 2023.
Provide full funding for K-3 basic special education, consistent with grades 4-12.
A $4 million annual commitment to support enhanced teacher recruitment and retention in high-needs schools beginning in the 2022-2023 school year.
An ombudsperson program will be adopted to assist individual students and families in resolving disputes or complaints concerning disparate discipline, inequitable access to school programs, and different or unfair treatment.
School districts seeking voter approval for capital construction and major renovations will be required to distribute an equity statement to explain how the capital project would impact equitable distributions of new and renovated buildings within the district.
The state will hire an independent organization to complete a holistic assessment of the Delaware public school finance system by January 2024, which shall consider funding levels, revenue mechanisms, equity and efficiency.
When the state Opportunity Funding appropriations reach $60, the actual amount of cash reaching schools could be closer to $80 million with local matches and will be based on enrollments. the press releases said.
The amount a school receives for a low-income student and for a English learner student will be equal by 2025. If a student is both, the school will get both allocations for that student.
Ninety percent of the allocations will go to the school earning it, unless a school district votes to reallocate some of that money to something like district-wide supports or specific high needs schools.
Both sides hailed the agreement.
“In any negotiated settlement neither side gets everything they want. While we were not able to get everything we wanted in this settlement, it does provide support for children that is desperately needed in Delaware’s education system,” said Jea Street, of Delawareans for Educational Opportunity. It is a group of parents and others interested in education.
“In that regard, the settlement and the relief it provides is reasonable and appropriate during the current crisis created by the pandemic,” Street said in a statement. “While this settlement is reasonable today, I must make it clear that the battle for fairness in public school education in Delaware is not over and advocacy for improvement will continue.”
Carney’s press release said that the Opportunity Funding provides targeted funding – for the first time in Delaware’s history – for low-income students and English learners statewide.
“It’s important to make clear that both parties viewed this case and these settlement negotiations as an opportunity to make real progress for Delaware’s children,” said Carney, who has repeatedly said the most important thing a state does is educate its children. “This is a path forward to support our most disadvantaged students and families – and one that will help close the persistent achievement gap in our schools.
Carney also said, “But our work is just getting started,” because now the Delaware General Assembly has to vote the funding through. “I believe legislators of both parties will see the merit in this proposal.”
State Rep. Mike Ramone, R-Pike Creek, said he’d been out campaigning all day and had not read the details, but was happy to hear about the settlement and happy the Legislature would have a say in the results. A member of the House Education Committee, he said he didn’t like the idea of long-running court proceedings that can last years and ultimately hurt the schools and students the suit is meant to help.
“I like having some kind of fixed mechanism and I know what it is and that we can move forward from here,” Ramone said. “I’m happy we’re at a point where maybe we can all agree to get this thing done and get it done for the kids.”
Others reacting to the settlement:
Dr. Freeman Williams, on behalf of the Delaware State Conference of Branches of the NAACP: “We are happy that an agreement has occurred between the state of Delaware, the NAACP and Delawareans for Educational Opportunity. This agreement has the potential to provide greater instructional program equity and equal education opportunities for disadvantaged students within Delaware’s public school system.”
State Sen. Elizabeth Lockman D-Wilmington — “Every student – regardless of zip code or background – deserves a high-quality public education. And yet, Delaware’s current education funding formula fails to account for the simple fact that in order to succeed, children with the greatest needs require the most support. That is the reform we are all working towards and the settlement announced today marks a potential step forward in our efforts to create a funding formula that is truly equitable for all students. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to fully discuss the details of the proposal with my colleagues, parents, educators and taxpayers in the weeks ahead.”
State Rep. Kim Williams — “As a mother of two children who were identified very early as developmentally delayed, I know firsthand how important it is to have teachers in place to provide quality services. Research has proven that early identification and intervention are critical to a child’s overall success. By the time a child reaches third grade, they should be transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn. If we are committed to fundamentally improving the quality of education in our state, then we must make a commitment early on.”
Dr. Tony Allen, president of Delaware State University — “In 2015, while serving as Chair of the Wilmington Education Advisory Committee, WEAC received input from thousands of Delawareans up and down the state – parents, lawmakers, educators, community partners, politicians alike. That input continued when WEAC morphed into the Commission. At that time, not one person said that the last 60 years of K12 education for students from economically distressed communities was sustainable, appropriate, or fair. The settlement reached today proves the point and represents a principled commitment to what I believe is a fundamental American right — every child’s access to a quality education. In the spirit of the indomitable Louis L. Redding, Chancellor Collins Seitz, and many more, may we forever be compelled to a higher purpose and greater sense of responsibility for our fellow citizens – particularly the most vulnerable among us.”
Dr. Susan Bunting, secretary of the Delaware Department of Education — “This agreement will continue our work to support the Delaware students and educators who need our help the most. “Through our Opportunity Funding program, low-income students and young English learners already are receiving additional support, and that work will expand statewide. We will provide new services for young students with special needs, and early childhood education. Our team at the Department of Education looks forward to working with educators to make a real difference for Delaware children with these additional resources.”
Javier Torrijos, chair of the Delaware Hispanic Commission — “On behalf of the Delaware Hispanic Commission and the many English Learners and their families, we want to thank Governor Carney and Secretary Bunting for their leadership in bringing the much-needed permanent funding for children who are at risk in Delaware. Children of poverty and English learners need the resources to keep pace with their peers. School districts will be able to look at long-term programs and provide the resources to meet these students’ needs. We are extremely grateful and after many years of advocacy we see this as a major victory for all Delawareans and more importantly the future of our children and this great state.”
State Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, on Monday called for the resignation of the chairman of a powerful state financial board, saying his campaign donations to only Democrats call into question the fairness of the board itself.
Hocker charged in a press release that Michael Houghton, chairman of the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council, has donated thousands of dollars to Democrat candidates and political action committees.
“DEFAC was set up to be a bipartisan, non-politically affiliated council that projects Delaware’s financial well-being,” Hocker said in the release. “Unfortunately, Mr. Houghton is a major contributor to both Democrat candidates and Democrat-affiliated political action committees.”
Houghton said that while he has been an active Democrat for 30 years, “Being involved in Democratic politics has never impacted my objective and bipartisan role as chairman of DEFAC. …
“Our role, and one I take very seriously, is providing fact-based information to the governor and the Legislature. And during my tenure, the veracity and accuracy of that information to my knowledge has not been questioned.”
Hocker’s press release cited Delaware Department of Elections records that said Houghton has given $3,500 to PAC302 and $10,000 payment to Facts Matter PAC. In addition, the release said, “Houghton has contributed thousands of dollars directly to Democrat candidates’ campaigns.“
PAC302 says it is set up to “provide financial support to Delaware Democrat candidates,” Hocker said.
“Facts Matter PAC recently distributed highly misleading literature attacking a sitting Republican senator,” the press release said.
That senator is State Sen. Anthony Delcollo, who is running against Democratic challenger Spiros Mantzavinos. Delcollo surprised the political world by beating former State Sen. President Pro Tem Patricia Blevins four years ago by 282 votes.
A recent postcard mailed to voters in the area depicted him as a Trump Republican, even though DelCollo has never styled himself that way and even voted for mail-in voting when it came up in the state Senate.
Efforts were unsuccessful to immediately reach DelCollo for comment.
“This routing of funds to partisan organizations and Democrat candidates calls into question DEFAC’s credibility, particularly during a time when we are to trust its financial projections during a global pandemic,” said Hocker, who is the minority leader in the state Senate, in his press release.
Hocker said he would be arguing the same thing if the council president was donating to only Republican campaigns.
“If they agreed to a bipartisan position and they gave that kind of money no matter what party, I would definitely be against it,” Hocker said.
“Houghton is certainly allowed to donate personal money to whatever and whomever he pleases, but he shouldn’t do so while chairing a bipartisan and apolitical committee,” Hocker said. “To restore faith in the Council’s work, Mr. Houghton should step down immediately. If not, Governor Carney must replace him.”
A spokesman for Carney declined to comment on Hocker’s charges.
Houghton’s personal campaign contributions also were called into question two years ago when Republican Greg Lavelle questioned whether Houghton’s donations and work in political action committees with state Escheator Brenda Mayrack were conflicts of interest. Mayrack heads the Office of Unclaimed Property.
Mayrack’s office puts hundreds of millions of dollars into the state budget by tracking down money that should have come to people or companies in the state of Delaware, but was never collected by those people. Lavelle said that a big part of Houghton’s work as a lawyer was representing companies that Mayrack’s office was auditing, and that Mayrack shouldn’t be treasurer of those PACs as a state official.
Ultimately, the Delaware State Public Integrity Commission ruled that Houghton was not subject to the commission’s rules because he was appointed. It also ruled that Mayrack had not done anything wrong.
DEFAC was created by former Gov. Pete du Pont in 1977 to project Delaware’s annual revenue. The governor and state Legislature use those projections when determining state budgets and spending.
According to Houghton’s law firm biography, he is a member of the board of both the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation and Rockefeller Trust Company of Delaware, both founded by Republicans.
Houghton said he has donated to Republican candidates, but the vast majority of his donations have been to Democrats.
The Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council draws from all over the Delaware community, Houghton said. Its members include active Democrats and Republicans, many of them state senators and representatives.
“We function collegially,” he said.
Houghton pointed out that when he served on an advisory panel along with Republicans including then-State Treasurer Ken Simpler, they recommended the creation of a budget-smoothing fund that set aside surplus money in good economic times to be used during bad ones.
Carney created the fund by executive order, and the state drew heavily from its $170 million to weather revenue shortfalls created by the COVID-19 pandemic and not have to ravage the 2020-21 state budget.
“That’s the kind of work I’ve done as chair of DEFAC,” Houghton said. “And I think during a pandemic with a looming continued fiscal crisis, that’s my focus.
“My focus is to do my job and support the governor and the Legislature in helping the state get through our current and prospective fiscal challenges.”
A Chancery Court judge today denied an appeal to extend the deadline for counting mail-in ballots.
Concerns regarding postal delays and votes going uncounted were not frivolous, Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock ruled, but the threat of disenfranchisement was too speculative at this juncture to warrant relief, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The case was filed by the League of Women Voters of Delaware, with help from the ACLU, seeking to extend the ballot deadline for mail-in ballots in the Nov. 3 election. The lawsuit raised the concern that the dramatic expansion of mail voting combined with widely reported postal service delays would result in thousands of votes going uncounted because they did not arrive by the current deadline of 8 p.m. on Election Day.
“But that is a matter for the legislature; my role is much more limited. Statutes enjoy a presumption of constitutionality, and I may not invalidate (let alone, as sought here, rewrite) state statutes on ground of unconstitutionality unless that unconstitutionality is clear.”
“The Delaware Constitution guarantees the right to vote in a free and equal election process,” he continued. “The General Assembly set a deadline for mailed ballots that, as of the time the legislation was passed, was sufficient to comply with this mandate.”
“Principles of judicial modesty, however, require I not interfere with a statute on speculative grounds—particularly so when to do so would change settled law within weeks of the election,” he wrote.
“Voting is our most fundamental right and the ACLU of Delaware will always fight to protect and expand that right,” said Karen Lantz, legal and policy director of the ACLU of Delaware, “We are disappointed in the court’s ruling and will be discussing next steps with our clients, but no matter what happens next, we won’t stop fighting to protect the vote in Delaware.”
“Even the governor has said that Delaware is an in-hand ballot state — that ballots must be in hand by 8 p.m. of election day,” said Jane Brady, chair of the Delaware Republican Party. “I think that’s a very good ruling.”
Leaders of the state Democratic Party were also asked for comment.
Problems with 911 service on Sept. 28 and Monday aren’t connected, a state official said, and the causes are still being researched.
“Our state 911 administrator is working closely with 911 network providers to determine the extent and cause of this disruption,” Gina A. Chasanov, chief of community relations for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said Tuesday.
“There is no direct connection with the previous 911 outage that occurred last week.”
The two outages differed.
Delaware State Police dispatch centers experienced a statewide interruption in service on Sept. 28, police said. Monday’s outage affected cell phone subscribers in Kent and Sussex counties, police said.
On Monday, “while some calls were rerouted to call center administrative lines, other calls were unable to connect,” Chasanov added. “Cell callers were immediately advised to text 911 or call administrative phone lines in case of an emergency.
Delaware Technical Community College will continue in a virtual mode this spring, with a few labs continuing running face to face, following full coronavirus restrictions.
“I have determined that the spring 2021 academic semester will remain in our current format, primarily distance learning with select sections of skills labs on campus,” Mark T. Brainard, the college president, wrote in a letter to the campus community, posted on Thursday.
“Delaware Tech will continue to provide targeted student support services on our campuses for those who need to access that assistance in person and we will continue to support our faculty, through professional development and additional resources, to enable them to provide the highest quality distance learning experience for our students.”
“While this is clearly disappointing and frustrating to many students, their families, and college employees, this decision is being made with health and safety, first and foremost, being our primary consideration,” he continued.”
“Over the next few months, however, a couple of realities require us to be prudent and consider elements that are beyond our control as we plan for next year,” he said.
“First, the weather will continue to bring cooler temperatures and bring some activities and larger numbers of people indoors. This is clearly a risk factor for new COVID cases.”
“As a complicating factor, the traditional flu season is already upon us (flu shots are being administered on our campuses this week and next) and history shows that influenza cases have peaked during the month of January in prior years.”
Years of work to improve the Marsh Road interchange with I-95, which began with better signage in 2016, is essentially ending at 5 p.m. Saturday, with left-turn restricted movements removed and the I-95 southbound off-ramp fully opening to traffic. A new traffic signal will also be activated.
The Delaware Department of Transportation said today that motorists can anticipate lane closures in the area to finish the project.
This project added two dedicated left-turn lanes from the I-95 northbound off-ramp to Carr Road; and from Carr onto Marsh. On Marsh, the left turn lanes to and from the I-95 ramps were lengthened. A signal was added on the I-95 northbound off-ramp. A path along Marsh was constructed for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The area used to experience rush-hour congestion, and hence a high number of congestion-related accidents, DelDOT said. The project was originally scheduled to end a year and a half ago.
Presidential candidate Joe Biden holds a commanding lead in Delaware, according to a University of Delaware Center for Political Communication poll released today. The Democratic incumbents are also leading in the statewide races for governor, U.S. senator and U.S. representative.
The poll shows that 54% of likely voters in Delaware say they’ll vote for Biden, while only 33% support Donald Trump.
For governor, Democrat John Carney gat 55% support, with 26% for Republican Julianne Murray.
In the U.S. Senate race, Democrat Chris Coons go 47%, with 27% for Republican Lauren Witzke.
In the U.S. House race, Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester got 51%, with 27% for Republican Lee Murphy.
In all these races, named third-party candidates got 1 to 5%, and 10 to 13% said they don’t know or picked others.
“In some sense, this reflects our strategy,” said Jane Brady, chair of the Delaware Republican Party. “We’re dealing with candidates without a lot of name recognition.”
“In Kent and Sussex counties, the poll is much closer, and we’re working with our base to build it up,” she added, noting that the party is also reaching out to Democrats and independent voters who share some GOP beliefs.
Leaders of Delaware’s Democratic party did to respond immediately to requests for comment.
“The big overall leads for Carney, Coons and Blunt Rochester reinforce the First State’s status as a solidly blue state,” professor Paul Brewer, research director of the Center for Political Communication, said in a statement. “Democrats have dominated recent statewide elections in Delaware. So far, none of this year’s Republican candidates shows signs of breaking that pattern.”
The poll of 976 adults in Delaware included 911 registered voters and 847 likely voters. The margin of error is 4 percentage points for overall results.