RI Secretary of State pushes for legislation that would allow for mail-in ballot option this fall

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – Rhode Island’s Secretary of State has announced new legislation that would allow for the option of mail-in voting in this fall’s elections.

The Safe and Healthy Voting in 2020 Act would allow for Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office to streamline the process of mail-in ballot voting. Gorbea is hoping the General Assembly will add the legislation to their agenda next week before they adjourn.

“As we all know, the coronavirus has forced us to rethink how we perform everyday activities in life, and that includes elections,” said Gorbea in a Zoom conference call with reporters Friday.

The changes that would come from the Act include:

  • Allowing the Secretary of State to send out mail ballot applications to all qualified voters this summer
  • Create an online portal for people to track their ballot
  • Place voter drop boxes across cities and towns
  • Improve accessible mail ballots for the disabled community
  • Remove the current requirement of two witnesses or notary signature to complete a mail-in ballot
  • Establish a 20-day early voting period
  • Extend the deadline for ballots to be received to three days after the election if postmarked by election day

“We don’t know what the future holds for this pandemic. We do know that we need to be ready for limitations in the fall on large social gatherings.”

Gorbea said challenges the state will face this fall include a shortage of poll workers as many are in at-risk age groups and a lack of polling locations.

“When you think about it, your regular polling locations in a regular election, they’re places like nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and senior centers. Those will likely be out of the question.”

According to the Secretary of State’s office, more than 80% of the votes cast in the June 2nd presidential primary in Rhode Island were by mail. There were issues, the office acknowledges, like mail-in ballots not arriving in time, and some applications getting returned as undeliverable.

But, the Secretary of State says, applications returned as undeliverable help them clean up the voter list.

“(People) might say, you know, ‘I’m not sure about that vote by mail. What if I don’t get my ballot in time, or what if I can’t send it back in time?’ We’re not forcing anybody to go through one particular process, we’re basically opening the availability of the ballot box in different manners so that the crowds can be divided and not descend on one particular day and time,” Gorbea said.

A coalition of organizations are backing the legislation, including Common Cause of Rhode Island, Legal Women Voters of Rhode Island, the ACLU of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Commission on Human Rights, Latino Policy Institute, RI Coalition Against Gun Violence, RI Coalition for the Homeless, the Providence branch of the NAACP, Working Families Party, the Women’s Fund of RI, Clean Water Action, RI Latino Pact, Arise Education, the Women Project, National Federation of the Blind RI, and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern New England.

This legislation would only apply to the state primary on September 8 and the general election on November 3 of 2020.

© WLNE-TV 2020

Categories: Coronavirus, Politics, Providence, Regional News, Rhode Island