PROVIDENCE, RI - At a press conference in the State House Library today, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea demonstrated the state's new voting systems to Governor Raimondo, legislative leaders, elections officials and community representatives.
"Voting equipment is Democracy's infrastructure. When I ran for office, I pledged to Rhode Islanders that I would utilize the latest technology to modernize elections in our state. I'm pleased to make good on that promise today by unveiling new voting equipment and online voter registration. These systems will help the state deliver fair, fast and accurate elections," Secretary Gorbea said.
Beginning this fall, 590 new voting machines will replace equipment in use since 1997. The new machines, manufactured by Nebraska-based Elections Systems and Software, will continue to use paper ballots, but feature an enhanced user interface and wireless connectivity. Additionally, city and town boards of canvassers will receive ballot on-demand printers that will not only ensure that there is never a shortage of ballots at any polling place, while reducing waste associated with printing too many ballots. Legislation enabling the purchase of this new voting equipment was sponsored in 2015 by Senator Cynthia A. Coyne and Representative Kathleen Fogarty.
"We must do everything we can to help Rhode Islanders participate and engage with government at every level," said Governor Gina M. Raimondo. "So, today, we are coming together so constituents can register to vote or update their voter information online. I also included money in my budget for new voting equipment. Together, we are promoting equity and creating access to the ballot box."
Secretary Gorbea also announced a pilot program for electronic poll books, a wireless tablet-based system which replaces the printed binders used for checking voters in at their polling places. The system will be provided by Missouri-based KNOWinK. Beginning with the September 13 Primary Election, 59 polling locations across the state will use electronic poll books to check in voters as they arrive. In jurisdictions across the U.S., electronic poll books have been proven to reduce voters' wait time and dramatically increase data accuracy and efficiencies at the local boards of canvassers. Based on lessons learned from the 2016 pilot program, Secretary Gorbea plans on expanding the program statewide during the 2018 elections.
"To preserve the efficiency and integrity of our elections, it is imperative that the machines we use to record and tally those votes are functional and up-to-date. I was proud to work with Secretary of State Gorbea to enable our state to purchase new voting equipment that will ensure our elections are not only fair and efficient, but accurate as well," said Representative Fogarty.
Senator Coyne said, "These changes are helping to bring Rhode Island's election systems into the 21st century. Prior to now, our voting equipment hadn't been updated in almost two decades. Modern voting equipment will make it easier for Rhode Islanders to participate in the process while ensuring the process is fair, accurate and efficient."
At the press conference, Secretary Gorbea provided a sneak preview of the state's new Online Voter Registration portal, which will go live on August 1 at vote.ri.gov and in Spanish at vota.ri.gov. This portal will allow eligible Rhode Islanders to securely register to vote or update their registration information online with just a few clicks. With this, Rhode Island joins 31 states, plus the District of Columbia, in offering online voter registration. Arizona was the first state to implement such a system in 2002. Legislation enabling the adoption of Online Voter Registration was sponsored this past legislative session by Senator Gayle L. Goldin and Representative Aaron Regunberg.
"These days, everything is done online. As of August 1st, Rhode Islanders will be able to register to vote or update their voter information via the internet, at their convenience," Senator Goldin said. "This makes it easier to participate in the electoral process and improves the accuracy of the voter database. This change, together with new voting equipment and a pilot program for electronic poll books, is helping to modernize the elections process for Rhode Island voters, and it provides a foundation for future improvements."
Representative Regunberg added, "We live in a world where you can go to college online and file your taxes online. I'm pleased that you are now able to register to vote or change the address on your voter registration online, too. This will encourage more young people to register to vote, since so many are accustomed to conducting their business on the web."
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