House passes Serpa bill allowing independent voters to automatically disaffiliate after primary voting


STATE HOUSE — The House of Representatives today passed legislation introduced by Rep. Patricia A. Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry) allowing independent voters in primary elections to automatically disaffiliate.

Under current law, when a voter who is not affiliated with any political party chooses to vote in a party primary, that voter is automatically registered as being affiliated with that party. Those voters can choose to disaffiliate immediately by filling out a form.

The proposed legislation (2024-H 7662) would make that disaffiliation automatic for all independent voters.

“Most voters in Rhode Island are unaffiliated with any political party, but often choose to vote in party primaries, whether it be Democrat or Republican,” said Representative Serpa. “And as voter history suggests, most of those voters would prefer to remain unaffiliated after the primary is over. This bill would allow those unaffiliated voters to remain unaffiliated without having to fill out a form after the election. That not only makes it easier for the voters, but for election officials who spend hundreds of hours after every election cycle processing thousands of these forms.”

The legislation would also solve the growing problem of those who vote in primary elections through the use of mail ballots. While those who vote in person can sign a disaffiliation form at the polls, those who mail in their ballots receive no such form and are sometimes surprised to find later that they now have a party affiliation.

“About 46% of Rhode Island voters choose to remain unaffiliated,” said Representative Serpa. “And with the growing trend of mail ballots, and the growing use of provisional ballots from voters who didn’t realize they had to fill out a form to remain unaffiliated, this will help us to stop disenfranchising voters who simply forgot to fill out some paperwork after the last primary election.”

The measure now moves to the Senate, where similar legislation (2024-S 2894) has been introduced by Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis (D-Dist. 33, Coventry, West Greenwich).