Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and Voting Rights Groups announce ‘Safe and Healthy Voting in 2020 Act’

10+ Organizations Call on Legislature
to Pass Mail-based Voting 

for 2020 Primary and General Elections

Following on the June 2 presidential primary, which saw 83% of all votes cast by mail, a coalition of Rhode Island organizations today announced legislation to implement mail-based voting in the September 8 state primary and the November 3 general election.

Changes that will be made by the Safe and Healthy Voting in 2020 Act include:
•    authorizing the Secretary of State to send applications for mail ballots to all qualified voters;
•    creating an online portal for voters to track their ballots, from initial application to final counting as a voted ballot;
•    eliminating the current requirement of two witnesses or a notary signature to complete a mail ballot, and instead use automated signature matching equipment to verify voters’ identities;
•    establishing a 20-day early voting period, to extend the time for in-person voting and reduce the number of people congregating at polling places on election day;
•    providing a network of dropboxes for voters to return their applications for mail ballots and their voted mail ballots;
•    offering electronic delivery of ballots to handicapped voters – but the voted ballots must be returned by mail or in-person;
•    extending the deadline for voted ballots to be received to three days after the election, if ballots are postmarked by election day; and
•    opening a bilingual hotline for voters.

The legislation would only apply to elections in 2020.

“Rhode Island health experts tell us that social distancing guidelines and limitations on large gatherings will continue into the fall,” said Common Cause Rhode Island Executive Director John Marion. “We need to plan for the fall elections now, or there won’t be enough time to implement the changes that need to be made.”

“This pandemic has emphasized the importance of providing safe and secure voting options,” said Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. “My office has worked with all stakeholders to offer solutions. The legislation I’m proposing will ensure that Rhode Islanders can vote in a safe and secure manner and that we protect our frontline elections workers this fall.”

“During 2020, we have witnessed the fragile and problematic structure of many of our systems, including elections. It is essential that as a state we recognize the gaps and flaws around voting information and access,” said Latino Policy Institute Executive Director Marcela Betancur. “By ensuring that voting by mail and safe in-person voting is communicated and accessible to all who are eligible is essential. Without proper safeguards, we will directly impede on the voting access of communities of color and other underserved communities.”

The NAACP Providence Branch believes that voting is the cornerstone of democracy!” said Jim Vincent, President of NAACP Providence Branch. “To support that democracy during a pandemic, the branch, strongly, supports the Safe and Healthy Voting in 2020 Act!”

“With record turnout predicted for the presidential election, we need to prepare now to protect the right to vote and preserve the health of the voter,” Marion said.

A Zoom recording of today’s press conference is available upon request.

Organizations supporting the ‘Safe and Healthy Voting in 2020 Act’ include: Common Cause RI, ACLU of RI, League of Women Voters of RI, RI Commission for Human Rights, Latino Policy Institute, RI Coalition Against Gun Violence, RI Coalition for the Homeless, Providence Branch NAACP, Working Families Party, Women’s Fund of RI, RI Latino PAC, Clean Water Action, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and National Federation of the Blind Rhode Island.