Providence, RI - At a State House news conference today, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea unveiled the Department of State's Voting and Elections Modernization Act of 2015 (VEMA). The legislation will allow Rhode Islanders to register online to vote, improve the integrity of our voter rolls, allow early in-person voting and strengthen rules around handling mail ballots.
"My goal is to empower Rhode Islanders by increasing their voting participation. We can increase voter participation by modernizing our antiquated voting laws. Using everyday technology we can better accommodate the work and family responsibilities of modern society. It's time to update our election laws." said Gorbea.
Gorbea was joined at the news conference by House Sponsor Representative Regunberg; Senate Sponsor Erin Lynch; John Marion, Executive Director of Common Cause Rhode Island; Louise R. Phaneuf, Burrillville Town Clerk and Kenneth McGill, Pawtucket Registrar of Elections.
The Voting and Elections Modernization Act of 2015 (H-6051 and S-0821) allows Rhode Islanders to conveniently and securely register to vote online, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Voters can also update their registration information online. Twenty-four states (including Massachusetts and Connecticut) have passed online voter registration.
"I am proud to sponsor this important legislation aimed at providing Rhode Islanders with more convenient and secure ways to register to vote, update their voter registration information and cast their ballot," Representative Regunberg said.
"These measures are an important step toward making government more accessible and ensuring fair and accurate elections," said John Marion. "I commend Secretary Gorbea for her vision and look forward to working with her to pass and implement these improvements."
The legislation will also enable Rhode Island to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a multi-state consortium that cross-references voter registration information with other state and federal voter databases to remove people who are not longer eligible to vote in Rhode Island.
"Joining ERIC will help prevent fraud by cleaning up the state's voter rolls while also saving money in printing and mailing ballots, as well in returned mail," said Pawtucket Registrar, Ken McGill.
Additionally, VEMA will make early voting available up to 28 days prior to an election and phase in weekend voting starting in 2016 to give Rhode Island voters greater flexibility and convenience around their busy schedules. Currently, 32 states and the District of Columbia have passed in-person, early voting laws.
Senator Lynch said, "Early voting encourages citizens to cast their ballots because they have more opportunity to do so. We should accommodate the varied and hectic schedules of Rhode Islanders who wish to get to the polls."
"Rhode Islanders are working longer than ever and have more family responsibilities, which can get in the way of voting. As the Town Clerk of Burrillville, I want to do my small part to make it easier for working families to vote," Louise Phaneuf said. "I applaud Secretary Gorbea and my State Representative Cale Keable for their legislation that would allow people to vote on weekends."
The legislation will also clarify rules around handling executed mail ballots, limiting those authorized to deliver mail ballots to the Board of Elections to the U.S. Postal Service, the voter him/herself or a family member/legal guardian only.
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