Rhode Island Voting Rights Policy Proposal
A message from Helena:
Rhode Island makes it far too difficult for our people to vote, but the good news is that with the right policies, we can fix that. And we need to–right now, voting rights are under attack across the country.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law in the United States the year after I was born. Sometimes it’s shocking to take a step back and realize how relatively recent that was–to remember that the literacy tests and poll taxes that were designed to keep poor people and people of color from participating in our government are part of our recent history, not the distant past.
Voting is a sacred and fundamental right, and it’s one we cannot take for granted. Every day, Republicans across the country are working hard to take us back to the old days. Every law, every closed polling location, every limitation on mail ballots is the start of a slow and dangerous drip back to the past.
That’s why leadership at the state level matters now more than ever. And we have a lot of work to do here at home. Last year, we were the only state with Democratic leaders that failed to expand voting rights.
We have an opportunity to make sure that all Rhode Islanders can participate in their government. I believe that the voting protections I’m proposing are even more important and necessary in a world impacted by COVID-19.
My grandfather, Thomas Dodd, had the honor of voting for the Voting Rights Act as a member of the United States Senate. As Governor, I’ll honor that legacy and establish Rhode Island as a national leader in voting rights. Our state was founded by Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson on the principles of freedom and hope. Let’s live up to those ideals.
Making It Easier to Vote:
Automatic Mail-in Ballot with no excuses: Rhode Island saw record election participation in 2020, when the state sent mail ballot applications to all registered voters. Rhode Island should take it one step further and automatically send a mail ballot to every registered voter while continuing to offer in-person options. Eight states already conduct elections in this way.
Ballot drop boxes: To make voting by mail more convenient for Rhode Islanders, secure drop boxes will be placed in every municipality in the state. Voters can return mail ballots to secure drop boxes which will be monitored regularly by election officials. The number of drop boxes in a given community will vary based on population and density.
Paid Leave for Voting: Rhode Island has no voting leave requirements, a common feature in most states. As governor, I would support a requirement of up to three hours of paid leave for employees at any point during the state’s early voting period through election day, provided the employee gives notice two days in advance.
Require Weekend Hours for Early In-Person Voting: Requiring polling places to remain open on weekends during the early voting period, coupled with a paid leave requirement, would give voters among the most flexible options for in-person voting in the country.
Protecting the Right to Vote:
End the Two-Witness Requirement: Rhode Island’s mail ballot laws perfectly illustrate that making voting harder doesn’t make elections more secure. It’s time to let absentee voters cast their ballots privately and securely, replacing the two-witness requirement with modern signature verification technology and processes.
Same Day Voter Registration: Rhode Island’s constitution includes a requirement that voters register to vote at least thirty days before the time of voting. As a result, the state’s deadline is among the earliest in the country. As governor, I would support ongoing efforts to amend the constitution to eliminate this requirement and permit same-day voter registration, which is already permitted in Rhode Island for presidential elections.
Alternative to Photo ID: Despite rampant misinformation, our elections face a much graver threat from voter suppression and disillusionment than the fiction of mass voter fraud. As of today, Rhode Island has one of the strictest voter ID laws in the region, and Rhode Islanders who forget their photo identification can only vote provisionally. Rhode Island should change its voter ID laws to be less burdensome, though no less secure, by permitting would-be voters to sign affidavits to their identities with strong penalties for perjury if they do not have a photo ID.
Defending Our Elections:
Make Election Security a Priority: Faith in the integrity of elections has been undermined by both misinformation from dangerous political opportunists and real threats from foreign adversaries. Rhode Island’s election technology remains vulnerable to cybersecurity threats and efforts to comprehensively review and reform election cybersecurity have fallen short. Strong audits are just one component of secure elections and must be combined with airtight technology. As governor, I would make election security a top priority and ensure a thorough cybersecurity review is completed and recommendations are implemented.