Campaign launched with aim to strengthen elections

A campaign “to strengthen the Ocean State’s elections” has been launched by a coalition of organizations that believe no infringements should block ballots from being cast.

Dawn Euer, the state senator representing Jamestown, is supporting the launch of “Let RI Vote.” The campaign is lobbying for a fortified system that would allow voters to cast their ballots by mail, and Euer, a Democrat, has introduced legislation to codify that recommendation.

“Free and fair elections are a pillar of our democracy,” she said. “Updating our voting laws to remove unnecessary barriers will make it easier for people to exercise this fundamental right.”

Common Cause Rhode Island, a nonpartisan organization that promotes representative democracy by “ensuring open, ethical, accountable and effective government,” is leading the charge. The campaign strives to improve accessibility for voters with disabilities, lengthen the early in-person voting period and increase the maintenance of voter registration lists.

Early in-person voting, along with sending applications for mail ballots to all registered voters, were introduced in 2020 to limit lines at the polls because of the coronavirus pandemic. John Marion, executive director of Common Cause, said those changes led to more Rhode Island voters casting ballots “even during a pandemic,” and wants to build on that success.

“Our government by the people works best when more people can participate through voting,” he said.

Jamestown resident Jane Koster, who serves as president of the Rhode Island League of Women Voters, is supporting the legislation that would adopt the changes made during the pandemic.

“The bill is comprehensive and will make Rhode Island one of the leading states in the country by enacting policy that puts voters first,” she said.

Nellie Gorbea, the Democratic secretary of state in Rhode Island, also is behind the bill. She said voters repeatedly have told her “that they appreciate the safe and secure voting options that we have provided to them during this pandemic.”

“We can ensure Rhode Islanders continue to have safe and secure voting options that enable their voices to be heard in the 21st century,” she said.

Deb Ruggiero, Jamestown’s state representative, said she “absolutely” supports these efforts.

“This is democracy,” she said. “Voting is the right by which all other rights depend.”

During the 2020 election in November, nearly 170,100 voters in Rhode Island cast their ballots through the mail to avoid lines at the polls. That is about four times more than during the 2016 presidential election.

According to Bob Rapoza, executive director of the Rhode Island Board of Elections, there were 521,185 ballots cast in the state, which represented 64.4 percent of the electorate. This was the highest turnout since the 2004 presidential contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry. Along with mail ballots, 201,474 voters cast their ballots on Election Day and 149,616 voters cast their ballots during emergency in-person voting.