Senate approves Let RI Vote Act
STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved the Let RI Vote Act, legislation sponsored by Sen. Dawn Euer to improve access and opportunities to vote in Rhode Island.
The legislation (2022-S 2007A) expands voter access while ensuring the integrity of Rhode Island elections. To accomplish these goals, the bill makes permanent several elections provisions put in place in 2020 to protect voters during the pandemic, including wider use of mail ballots, which helped result in a record number of Rhode Islanders casting votes that year.
“It should be easy to access your right to vote. Giving voters options about when and how to cast their vote is a way to ensure that our elections really do produce results that reflect the will of the people – all the people,” said Senator Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown). “Rhode Island’s elections in 2020 showed that we can give voters options for casting their ballots while maintaining elections that are safe, smooth and secure, and that doing so significantly improves voter turnout. Removing the roadblocks that discourage voter participation brings our elections closer to what they are supposed to be — the opportunity for all Americans to have their say in their government.”
The legislation makes mail voting easier by allowing online mail ballot applications, and permitting any voter to use a mail ballot or an emergency mail ballot without needing an excuse for why they can’t visit their polling location on Election Day. It also drops the requirement that mail ballots be either signed by two witnesses or notarized. Instead, voters’ signatures will be verified using their registration records using a four-tiered verification process. The bill requires every municipality to maintain at least one drop box where voters can deposit their ballots securely through the close of polls on Election Day. Additionally, the act allows nursing home residents to opt in to automatically receive applications for mail ballots for every subsequent election.
The bill also enhances the state’s voter registration list maintenance procedures, requiring the Secretary of State to update the voter list at least four times each year.
Additionally, the bill reduces the application deadline for a Braille ballot from 45 days to 21 days before an election, and requires the Secretary of State to establish a permanent multilingual voter information hotline.
The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives, where House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence) is sponsoring the legislation (2022-H 7100).
In the 2020 general election, when provisions were made to encourage early voting and mail ballots for safety during the pandemic, 62% of the 522,488 Rhode Islanders who voted cast their ballots either early or by mail. By comparison, 426,410 Rhode Islanders voted in the previous presidential election in 2016, and only 9 percent of them voted by mail. (Early voting was not an option prior to 2020.)
The bill is backed by the Rhode Island Voting Access Coalition, a broad coalition of community organizations that includes AARP, the NAACP Providence Branch, Common Cause and many other groups that promote Rhode Islanders’ rights.
“I am proud that Rhode Island is recognizing the importance of encouraging and promoting voter participation. Our democracy is stronger when all Americans have a voice in it,” said Senator Euer.
The Senate also approved legislation (2022-S 2119A) sponsored by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) to expand the time the Board of Elections has to certify mail ballots, allowing the board to begin 20 days before an election rather than 14 days. It also codifies and updates the Board of Elections four-tier mail ballot voter signature verification process. That bill also now goes to the House, where Rep. Evan P. Shanley (D-Dist. 24, Warwick) is sponsoring its companion bill (2022-H 7428).