A coalition of more than two dozen grassroots organizations are kicking off the “Let RI Vote” campaign today, with voters, advocates and experts explaining the need to strengthen the Ocean State’s elections systems.
A recording of the online Media Briefing is available here.
The coalition supports legislation that would fortify Rhode Island’s vote by mail system, improve accessibility for voters with disabilities and language minorities, length the in-person Early Voting period and provide more-frequent maintenance of voter registration lists. The legislation builds on the success of vote-by-mail and in-person early voting during last year’s elections.
Despite the COVID pandemic, Rhode Island’s November 2020 elections broke voter turnout records, in large part because vote-by-mail barriers were temporarily reduced and state officials and grassroots organizations encouraged voters to vote by mail or vote early in-person. More than a half-million Rhode Islanders cast ballots in the November election — and more than 60% of them used either vote-by-mail or in-person early voting.
“Our government ‘by the people’ works best when more people can participate through voting,” said Common Cause Rhode Island Executive Director John Marion. “The 2020 election showed that vote-by-mail and early voting make it possible for more Rhode Islanders to participate in our elections — even during a pandemic. This legislation will improve our elections by making them more accessible to everyone, but particularly to voters with disabilities and language minorities.”
“As we saw this past election, early voting alternatives were used by a large portion of our population and the results of this change in voting patterns produced a smooth and secure election process that ensured that everyone’s vote was safely counted,” said House Majority Whip Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence). “It is for this reason that I have introduced legislation to make these temporary changes in election law permanent, making sure that every voter has the ability and option to cast their vote conveniently and securely. It has always been a uniquely American struggle to get our residents to vote and this legislation, as we saw last election, will encourage more voters to participate in the electoral process.”
“Free and fair elections are a pillar of our democracy,” Senator Dawn Euer (D-Newport, Jamestown) said. “Updating our voting laws to remove unnecessary barriers will make it easier for people to exercise this fundamental right.”
“Our government works best when it truly reflects the will of the people it serves,” Senator Alana DiMario (D-Narragansett, North Kingstown) said. “Removing barriers to voting like the 30 day registration requirement results in more people having their voice heard on Election Day.”
“Rhode Islanders repeatedly tell me that they appreciate the safe and secure voting options that we have provided to them during this pandemic. The Let Rhode Island Vote Act continues the progress we have made advancing voting options and rights for Rhode Islanders by building on our success with online voter registration, automated voter registration and early in-person voting,” said Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea. “I’m proud to be part of this coalition and thank Senators Euer and DiMario and Representative Kazarian for sponsoring this important legislation. Together we can ensure Rhode Islanders continue to have safe and secure voting options that enable their voices to be heard in the 21st century.”
“Removing the notary and two-witness requirement would mean myself and other voters with disabilities throughout Rhode Island would be able to vote without worrying about missing out on their constitutional right because they couldn’t get witnesses or find a notary,” said Miranda Oakley, a voter from South Kingston. “Our voting rights should not be taken away from us because of unnecessary barriers holding us back. Every vote matters, including voters with disabilities.” Read her full remarks here.
“I am often on the road. It is foreseeable that I would not know until the night before election day that I will not be in town and unable to vote. If I am able to vote by mail, I will not have to try to rearrange my schedule to get back to Narragansett before the polls close,” said Tracy Kubricky, a voter from Narragansett. “My daughter and son-in-law are having a baby soon. They both work on Tuesdays. Mail ballots would help them out also. If the Mail Ballot Drop Boxes are made permanent, the ballots can be dropped off anytime without getting out of the car. This is very helpful with a baby or small child.” Read her full remarks here.
“I work 11-12 hours a day. It is extremely hard for me to get to the polls on Election Day to vote,” said David Sherman, a voter from Scituate. “The polls are only open until 8 pm and there is no way that I can get to the polls to vote after my shift ends and I commute back home. With early voting in place this November, I was able to work around my work schedule and vote on a day that was more convenient to me. I have voted in every election my entire life. It is extremely important for me to cast my vote and have my voice heard, but it was getting harder and harder each year due to my work schedule. With early voting, there isn’t as much stress trying to figure out when I can get to the polls to vote without having to worry about taking a vacation day or missing work.” Read his full remarks here.
“The League of Women Voters of Rhode Island supports this bill that protects and makes permanent all the changes that eased voting this past year,” Jane Koster, President, League of Women Voters of Rhode Island said. “The League is proud to be a leading member of RIVAC working with Rhode Island citizens to secure these necessary changes. The bill is comprehensive and will make Rhode Island one of the leading states in the country by enacting policy that puts voters first.”
“Voting is the single most important thing that Rhode Islanders can do to address social justice issues, protect public health, and preserve our environment and natural resources,” Johnathan Berard, Rhode Island State Director of Clean Water Action said. “Clean Water Action is a proud member of the RIVAC and supports the ‘Let RI Vote’ legislation that removes unnecessary barriers and allows the voters of our state to conveniently and confidently cast their ballots.”
“The litigation that the ACLU was forced to file last year to protect the rights of voters and candidates during the pandemic highlighted the many unnecessary obstacles that stand in the way of exercising the fundamental right to vote,” said Steve Brown, Executive Director of ACLU of Rhode Island. “Passage of this important legislation will codify the lessons we learned from Covid-19 and make Rhode Island’s electoral process simpler, fairer, and more equitable.”
“Voter access is limited when we have a single day to vote during any election. Many workers don’t have control over their schedules and find themselves working on election day. This paired with transportation issues to the poll and other family responsibilities can easily prevent someone from voting who might otherwise want to,” said Kelly Nevins, Chief Executive Officer of Women’s Fund of Rhode Island. “Early in-person voting and vote by mail options that don’t require an ‘excuse’ means better voter engagement.”
“The Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights supports ‘Let Rhode Island Vote’ and the bills seeking to expand voting opportunities,” Michael D. Évora, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights said. “As the late Representative John Lewis said: ‘My dear friends: Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.’”
“Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence supports ‘Let Rhode Island Vote’. Changes that provide more flexibility and ease for all registered voters to make their voices heard should be made permanent — and ensure every Rhode Islander gets their voice heard,” said Linda Finn, Executive Director of Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence.
“The right to vote and the right to a safe, stable home are intertwined,” said Katie West, Manager, Homes RI, Housing Network of Rhode Island. Housing is built with ballots, and we must ensure all Rhode Islanders can cast their ballot, no matter their housing situation. We are proud to support ‘Let Rhode Island Vote’.”
“For Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness there is an obstacle course of barriers blocking the path to the ballot box. Where do you register to vote without a home address? How do you hear about election information and learn about policy when you’re focused on where you’re going to sleep and eat today?” asked Caitlin Frumerie, Executive Director, Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. “Voter access assumes everyone has a homebase, which automatically disadvantages those who do not. We must ensure that every eligible person, regardless of their housing status, is able to vote successfully and with ease if we want a fair democracy. Let’s get out there and let Rhode Island vote.”
“Most of us, no matter our race, our gender, or where we come from, want Rhode Island to be a place where freedom is for everyone, where we all have an equal say, and where we can trust in the integrity of our elections,” said Georgia Hollister Isman, NE Regional Director of the Working Families Party. “Together, let’s ensure every eligible Rhode Islander has the freedom to vote in the way that works best for them, and that the results of our elections truly reflect the will of the people.”
“As we saw last year, early in-person voting is a secure, convenient way to make voting more accessible to Rhode Islanders,” said Isabel Mattia, member of the RI Working Families Party. “It’s my vote, and I like choosing how I will cast it. Early voting increases access for working people, people who care for family members, and people with limited access to transportation, and it keeps people from having to stand in long lines at the polls on Election Day.”
“We must address ongoing barriers to enfranchisement faced by marginalized communities. This includes limited opportunities to register and vote. Studies have shown that by allowing for same day registration, the option to vote by mail and voting on the weekends, more people are able to cast their ballots and have a say in the systems that impact their health, their lives, and their families,” said Jocelyn Foye, Director of The Womxn Project. “Even before the pandemic, communities of color, low income individuals, LGBTQ folks, women, the elderly, and the young all faced barriers to registering to vote as well as casting a ballot. We have to ensure that anyone who is eligible to vote can make their voice heard at the polls. This is about each of us being able to decide who we think should have the power to craft the policies that make huge impacts on our health, our families, and our lives.”
Voting Access Coalition member organizations include:
ACLU of Rhode Island
Common Cause Rhode Island
Clean Water Action Rhode Island
Every Vote Counts Brown
Formerly Incarcerated Union
Housing Network Rhode Island
I Cane Walk
League of Women Voters of Rhode Island
NAACP Providence Branch
National Council of Jewish Women of Rhode Island
National Vote at Home Institute
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England
Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence
Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless
Rhode Island College Democrats
Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus
Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council
Rhode Island Human Rights Commission
Rhode Island Latino PAC
Rhode Island Working Families Party
The Women’s Fund Rhode Island
The Womxn Project
UAW, Section 9