17 Organizations Urge State Lawmakers to Pass Bills to Protect Voting Rights During Upcoming Elections

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17 Organizations Urge State Lawmakers to Pass Bills to Protect Voting Rights During Upcoming Elections

PROVIDENCE — In advance of votes expected today in the Rhode Island General Assembly, 17 organizations concerned about voting rights call on the Senate and House of Representatives to pass two bills to protect the right of all Rhode Islanders to vote in the fall elections, and urge Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea to immediately send mail ballot applications to eligible Rhode Island voters for the September 8, 2020 primary election.

If passed, House bill H 7200 Sub A and its Senate companion bill, S 2598 Sub A, will create a process for in-person early voting by making improvements to the current emergency mail ballot process. H 7200 Sub A is scheduled for a floor vote today, while S 2598 is expected to be voted out of committee and sent immediately to the floor for a vote.

Also scheduled for a floor vote in the House, H 8102 Sub A will make it easier to vote using a regular mail ballot by requiring the Secretary of State to send applications to all eligible voters, providing drop boxes around the state, and waiving the requirement that voters obtain the signature of two witnesses or a notary public on a mail ballot, a distinction Rhode Island shares with only Alabama.

The Senate has yet to introduce companion legislation to H 8102 Sub A, which the voting rights groups said is critical to ensuring that all Rhode Islanders have safe access to the ballot for the September primary and November general election, particularly voters who are immuno-compromised, live alone, or simply do not wish to risk their health to exercise their right to vote during the ongoing global COVID-10 pandemic.

“Time is quickly running out to prepare for the fall elections and we need to safeguard the health of voting and voters,” said John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island. “Common Cause urges the House to pass both bills before it and implores the Senate to do more, and take up both pieces of legislation immediately. With the Senate poised to vote on legislation that makes it easier to bet on sports, they’re doing more to protect the health of gamblers than voters.”

“Voters need action now to safeguard their right to vote in September,” said Georgia Hollister Isman, state director of the Rhode Island Working Families Party. “If we want to have a primary election that is free, fair, secure and safe, we must have the option for all people to vote by mail in September.”

“Rhode Islanders should not have to choose between their health and the health of their families and voting,” said Jim Vincent, president of the NAACP Providence Branch.

“Sending mail ballot applications to all voters in the Presidential Primary not only let a record number of Rhode Islanders vote, it set an important expectation in an extremely uncertain time,” said Kristina Contreras Fox, policy analyst at the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. “Consistency matters, especially for voters experiencing housing instability or homelessness. And remember: not every voter will have internet access, a printer, an envelope, or even postage. Being unable to afford a stamp shouldn’t prohibit you from exercising your rights.”

“The League of Women Voters of Rhode Island echoes the group’s sentiments and officially calls on the House to pass both voting bills; the Senate to immediately consider both bills; and the Secretary of State to send out mail ballot applications posthaste,” said Jane Koster, president of the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island. “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic — and just as the League has done for generations, we are committed to ensuring elections remain safe and accessible for all.”

In testimony urging the House of Representatives to pass H 7200 Sub A and H 8102 Sub A, the groups emphasized the need to pass both pieces of legislation together to ensure that voting rights are adequately protected for the fall elections. Separately, the groups testified, the bills do not do enough to ensure that eligible voters have enough options to safely cast their ballot during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The groups echoed the same sentiment in a letter urging Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea not to wait for the legislature to act, and to instead send applications for the September primary as soon as possible.

You can read the full testimony here.

You can read the groups’ letter to Secretary Gorbea letter here.

The groups supporting the legislation include Common Cause Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Working Families Party, Latino Policy Institute, NAACP Providence Branch, Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, The Womxn Project, Rhode Island Latino PAC, Clean Water Action Rhode Island, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, RI Coalition for the Homeless, Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, Sunrise Providence, ACLU of Rhode Island, RI Coalition Against Gun Violence and Alliance of RI Southeast Asians for Education (ARISE) and Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus.