PROVIDENCE, RI – Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea has put forth a legislative agenda that continues her nationally-recognized work to improve access to the ballot box and modernize elections in Rhode Island.
First, Secretary Gorbea will once again introduce early in-person voting legislation in the General Assembly.
"The number of voters who used either a mail or emergency mail ballot has increased dramatically over the past two election cycles," Secretary Gorbea said. "These numbers show that Rhode Islanders want more options for voting than just on Election Day. This is a trend seen across the country. The time has come to provide early in-person voting to Rhode Islanders."
During the 2018 mid-term election, the number of emergency mail ballots submitted to the Board of Elections saw an increase of 119 percent over the previous mid-term in 2014. Traditional mail ballots also saw an increase of 47 percent during that same period.
Early in-person voting would allow for voting on the Saturday and Sunday before Election Day and would implement the same process voters use at a polling place rather than the cumbersome mail ballot process used today. Just like Election Day, voters would scan their ID and then sign their ballot application using an electronic poll book. They would then mark and immediately cast their ballot into a voting machine.
In addition to early in-person voting legislation, Secretary Gorbea is looking to move Rhode Island's primary election to the third Tuesday after the first Monday in August.
Military and overseas voters will have very little time to receive and return their ballots for the November 2020 election. In fact, based on the 2020 election calendar, the time between the state primary and general election is so short that Rhode Island will violate federal law by not getting military and overseas ballots out 45-days in advance of the general election.
With Secretary Gorbea's proposed legislation, Rhode Island would have more time to prepare ballots following the state primary and join Connecticut, Vermont, and 12 other states in holding their state primary in August.
"It is most alarming to me that the opportunity to exercise the right to vote is at risk for the very men and women who are deployed overseas defending our nation's democracy," Secretary Gorbea said. "We must change the elections calendar to ensure our military men and women can all vote."
Lastly, Secretary Gorbea will introduce a set of bills aimed at updating elections administration. This includes legislation that will allow voters who are registered as "unaffiliated" to remain unaffiliated after voting in a primary without having to fill out a disaffiliation form and legislation that clarifies what voter information is included in the public voter file.
Responding to privacy concerns from constituents, Secretary Gorbea made the decision in 2017 to only provide year of birth in the aggregated data export of the voter file. Her proposed legislation will update the law to reflect current practice and remove language that has previously been ruled unconstitutional by the courts.