Bill would allow three-week window to cast ballots
Saying it would eliminate long lines like those many voters stood in for hours in November, state Rep. Deborah Ruggiero has proposed a bill that would allow Rhode Islanders to cast their votes over the course of about three weeks before Election Day.
Ruggiero has introduced legislatio n that would allow early voting in Rhode Island beginning the third Thursday before a primary, general or special election. Registered voters would be able to cast their ballot in person at designated locations from that Thursday until the Friday before the scheduled election. Early voting would take place on weekdays, with hours that begin no later than 9 a.m. and end no earlier than 4:30 p.m.
The bill has the backing of Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
Ruggiero said she supports early voting as a means of eliminating long waiting times for voters, since a three-week-long voting period would spread out the crowds of citizens who now must all cast their votes on a single day. Early voting is currently available in 32 other states and Washington, D.C.
“Early voting is convenient, and anything we can do to make voting more convenient is a step forward for democracy,” said Ruggiero.
“We want people to be able to make their voices heard, and not to skip voting because they don’t have time to wait in a long line on Election Day. If they have options, they can go at the time that works for them.”
A longer voting period would also lessen the effect of problems at polls, she said. When voting must be completed in a single day, time lost because of problems with ballots or machines, or confused voters going to the wrong place, can be critical. If voters have more time, such problems won’t lead to as many long lines or to anyone missing their opportunity to vote, she said.
“This last election was a perfect storm contributing to many long lines and confusion at so many polling places in cities and towns across our state,” said Ruggiero. “People were confused with redistricting, the reduced number of polling places and the change in the closing of polls from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Ruggiero said she envisions early voting taking place at town halls, since most are generally already open during the specified voting hours on weekdays, and could perhaps therefore implement early voting at the lowest possible cost.