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Making It Safer for Victims of Domestic Violence to Vote

PROVIDENCE, RI -- The Secretary of State's office is working with the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV) to ensure that survivors and their families know about a new law that makes it harder for perpetrators to use voter registration records to track them down.

This is the first election cycle to take place under the state's expanded Address Confidentially Program. Because the home addresses of registered voters are considered public records under state law, the new law exempts the home address of voters who live with victims of domestic violence from disclosure. The home addresses of victims were already protected under law.

"This program greatly increases the safety of survivors who are worried an abuser will find them using public records," said Deb DeBare, the RICADV's executive director. "No one should have to choose between their right to safety and their right to vote."

The Secretary of State's office developed the legislation at the request of the RICADV, which represents six member agencies, and Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships, a taskforce of survivors. The legislation was sponsored by state Rep. Elaine Coderre and state Sen. Maryellen Goodwin.

The RICADV's member agencies are the Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center, Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County, Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, Sojourner House, the Women's Center of R.I. and and the Women's Resource Center of Newport and Bristol Counties.

Survivors of domestic violence must have a restraining order or no-contact order in place in order to trigger protection under the program, which is administered by the Secretary of State's office.

While the agencies are making sure their clients are aware of the additional protection, more word of mouth is needed to reach survivors who are not part of the formal network, said Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis.

Survivors and voters who live in the same household can apply to shield their home address from public records disclosure through any of the member agencies or by downloading the application from the Secretary of State's website or the RICADV's website.

“Sometimes good legislation has consequences that are not obvious at the time it is introduced. The law that defines voting records as open records is one such case,” said Mollis. “While maintaining transparency is important and necessary, there are occasions when that goal must take a backseat to the safety of victims and their families and friends.”

The Secretary of State’s office maintains the statewide voter registration list and prepares the ballots for all federal, state and municipal elections held in Rhode Island. In addition, the office distributes handbooks that explain how to run for office, how to register to vote and how to vote.

Secretary of State Mollis is committed to making it easier for Rhode Islanders to vote, helping businesses grow and making government more open and accessible. For more information, visit sos.ri.gov.

Related links

Department or agency: Office of the Secretary of State

Online: http://www.sos.ri.gov/

Release date: 10-19-2010

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