Common Cause Rhode Island will continue to update this page with resources and more information as Rhode Island’s response to the crisis evolves.
This section was updated on May 20, 2020
Changes & Challenges to Democracy in the Ocean State
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged our democracy in Rhode Island and forced us to adapt quickly to maintain an open, ethical, and accountable government. Our work has largely focused on maintaining transparency and accessibility as public meetings move online. We are also focused on making sure voting rights are maintained while public health is preserved.
Common Cause Rhode Island’s Response
We are living in an unprecedented time. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world overnight and we are still trying to figure out how to cope as a society. Despite this challenge we remain focused on ensuring our democracy continues to function; people respond to the 2020 Census, public meetings allow the same level of participation as they move online and that our 2020 elections can be held safely and securely.
Presidential Preference Primary
As the scope of the pandemic set in, it became apparent that changes were needed to make the April 28th Presidential Preference Primary safe and accessible. Working with the League of Women Voters of RI and the RI ACLU we provided suggestions for the Rhode Island Board of Elections. The Board of Elections took many of our suggestions and that led to Executive Order 20-11 moving the election until June 2nd and making other important changes, including mailing an absentee ballot application to every registered voter, to keep voters safe and making voting accessible.
Beginning on April 17th every Rhode Island voter who had not already requested one was sent an application for an absentee ballot for the June 2nd Presidential Preference Primary. Those applications were due by May 18th. If you requested an absentee ballot you should see it arrive in the coming days. Be sure to closely follow the instructions when filling it out, including signing the oath envelope. Return your ballot to the Board of Elections by 8 p.m. on June 2nd to make sure it is counted. If you did not request a mail ballot but are registered to vote, you can still vote in person on June 2nd. Find your polling place by going to the Secretary of State’s Voter Information Center website.
We hope that the COVID-10 crisis will have subsided by September and November, and that we will be able to go about our lives and our elections as normal. But there is no guarantee that will be the case. Both the integrity of our elections and ability to protect public health – and save lives – during a crisis are too important to leave to chance.
That’s why we are focused on acting now to ensure that – no matter the circumstances – our fall elections are safe and participatory. We ask you to write to your state legislators (select the tab below) to implement a package of reforms that includes:
- Expanded mail voting for fall 2020 elections
- Expanded early voting windows
- Safety and physical distancing measures
On March 16th Governor Gina Raimondo issued Executive Order 20-05 suspending the requirement that public bodies (i.e. state and municipal boards including city and town councils) meet in person. Common Cause Rhode Island, along with the RI ACLU, immediately provided feedback to the administration asking for changes to her order. On March 24th the Department of Administration issued guidance based on our suggestions.
On March 31st we hosted a training with Leadership Rhode Island and the League of Cities and Towns for more than 300 municipal officials with lessons for how to hold online public meetings. On April 15th we sent a second letter to Governor Raimondo urging further changes to renewal of EO 20-05 and on April 17th she issued EO 20-25 again incorporating some of our suggestions. That executive order was renewed on May 15th and is set to expire on June 14th.
Attorney General Peter Neronha has offered useful guidance on the new executive order. The Department of Business Regulations has created a guide for holding a public meeting using the Zoom conferencing platform. Common Cause has laid out four principles for transparent and accessible government. Those include public notice, observation, participation and deliberation. Details of what those should look like are in the downloadable document.
We will continue to work to encourage transparency and accessibility as the government moves online.
A complete 2020 Census is essential: it decides how many federal dollars our communities will receive for critical resources like schools, roads, and – especially important today – hospitals. Census data is also used to determine how much Congressional representation we get and to conduct redistricting in the state.
Common Cause Rhode Island is in the leadership of the statewide Complete Count Committee. We are working with them to adapt outreach efforts during the pandemic, shifting efforts online.
You can do your part by completing your census online today at my2020census.gov.
Join us for a special Demystifying Democracy webinar on how to maintain government transparency and accessibility in the time of COVID-19 on May 20th at 6:30 pm.
Moderator: John Marion, Executive Director of Common Cause Rhode Island
Abel Collins, Council President of South Kingstown
Shawn Selleck, City Clerk of Providence
Steve Ahlquist, Journalist for Uprise RI
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic many states are exploring how to increase the use of mail ballots to hold successful elections.Common Cause Rhode Island hosted a webinar on April 19th from 7 pm – 8:30 pm Voting by Mail During the COVID-19 Pandemic. We discussed what it takes to successfully transition a state to using primarily mail ballots featuring national experts.
Elena Nunez, Director of State Operations and former ED Colorado Common Cause
Jennifer Morrell, Consultant and former Deputy of Elections, Arapahoe County, CO
Noah Praetz, Consultant and former Director of Elections, Cook County, IL
Watch the video HERE