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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 June 11, 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. 

The Presidential Preference Primary was largely a success. More than 80 percent of voters cast their ballots by mail, up from less than five percent in 2016. There were problems with some voters not receiving requested ballots, or not receiving ballots at the correct address. If you encountered problems, please let us know by emailing contact@commoncauseri.org.

 

Fall Elections

We hope that the COVID-10 crisis will have subsided by September and November, but we do not know if it will. That’s why we need to get ready now for the September statewide primary and November general election. Common Cause Rhode Island is supporting the Safe and Healthy Voting in 2020 Act to make needed changes to protect the right to vote while safeguarding public health. The act would:

  • Require that a mail ballot application be sent to every registered voter.
  • Require that drop boxes be installed around the state for receiving mail ballots 24 hours a day.
  • Require 20 days of early voting, including the weekend before the elections.
  • And other changes to assist voters to cast their ballot safely and securely.

You can find more information about the Safe and Healthy Voting in 2020 Act here.

Open Meetings

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. 

Census

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.

Events

On June 12th we launched the Safe and Healthy Voting in 2020 Act with 16 partner organizations. We held a press conference.

Speakers included:

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea

Dr. Sarah Fessler of the Rhode Island Medical Association

Steven Brown of the ACLU Rhode Island

Jim Vincent of the Providence Branch of NAACP.

Watch the video.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has moved public meetings online. On May 20th we held a special Demystifying Democracy event exploring Government Transparency in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Panelists included:

Abel Collins, Council President of South Kingstown

Shawn Selleck, City Clerk of Providence

Steve Ahlquist, Journalist for Uprise RI

Watch the video.

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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, 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.

Panelists included:

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

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