2018-05-17 / Front Page

Council supports early voting bill

BY TIM RIEL

Early voting will be streamlined electronically if the town councilors get their way.

The council unanimously approved a resolution at its May 7 meeting to urge the state legislature to pass a law that would “make it easier for Rhode Islanders to vote by formalizing a 20- day early voting period before a primary or general election.” The resolution also supports a measure that would allow voters to cast their ballots the weekend before the election.

This request was brought to the council by two Jamestown residents, Jane Koster and Rosemary Forbes-Woodside, president and treasurer of the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, respectively.

The league is endorsing legislation proposed by Nellie Gorbea, Rhode Island’s secretary of state. Currently, voters can apply for an emergency ballot through their local board of canvassers within 20 days of the election. The ballot must be completed and delivered to the town by 4 p.m. the day before the election. Also, the ballot must be sealed inside an envelope that is signed on the outside by the voter. It is mandatory for a local election official to witness the signature.

That ballot must then be delivered to the state Board of Elections in Providence by 8 p.m. Election Day.

Rob Rock, director of elections for the secretary of state, told the councilors this process is antiquated. Instead, Gorbea’s legislation would allow voters to visit their local board of canvassers, show their ID, check into an electronic polling book, complete their ballot and feed it into the voting machine.

“Just like they would on Election Day,” Rock said. “It gives voters more confidence that their vote is going to be counted.”

While Rock can say “with certainty” every vote is counted using the current process, he said there is peace of mind in seeing that ballot count increase by one on the voting machine.

According to Gorbea, there is a significant upward trend in early voting. During the 2016 presidential election, 46 percent of voters nationwide cast their ballots in advance of Election Day, compared to 11 percent 20 years earlier. In Rhode Island, 15,000 early ballots were cast during that election, a 150 percent increase from the 2012 presidential election.

“It’s the way we live our lives these days,” Rock said. “We all don’t have the time to vote on one particular Tuesday in November.”

Gorbea also pointed to a poll conducted by Common Cause Rhode Island, a nonpartisan organization founded in 1970 to promote representative democracy, that found 66 percent of Rhode Islanders favor early voting, including weekends.

Both versions of the legislation, Senate bill 2419 and House bill 7501, have been recommended for further study by their respective judiciary committees.

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