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Rhode Island

We see several issue areas in which Rhode Island has the opportunity to implement voter-centric reforms. The State suspended witness and notary requirements and mailed absentee ballot applications to all voters in the last year and can continue to strengthen its election system by allowing voters to request an absentee ballot online, implementing ballot tracking, and making its signature verification process permanent. By passing legislation to increase ballot return options, implement same day voter registration, and establish a permanent absentee voter list, Rhode Island can build upon the outstanding work done in 2020. As always, we stress that policy is important, but it is just as important that it is implemented well.

As of 2021....

No Excuse Required

No Excuse Required

No excuse to vote by mail

Online Mail Ballot Application

Online Mail Ballot Application

Apply for mail ballot online

Robust Ballot Return Option

Robust Ballot Return Option

U.S. mail, drop boxes, vote centers, and more

Prepaid Postage

Prepaid Postage

Postage-paid return envelopes provided

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Election Day Postmark Acceptance

Accepts ballots postmarked by Election Day

Ballot Tracking

Ballot Tracking

Online method to check ballot status

Signature Verification

Signature Verification

Voter signature verified before ballot is counted

Cure Process

Cure Process

Ability to correct issues so ballot can be counted

Preprocessing

Preprocessing

Election official may process ballot before Election Day

Opportunities

Expanding Rhode Island’s permanent absentee option to all residents and making the list truly permanent would save the state money on application postage as well as administrative costs for processing multiple requests for a single voter.
Creating an online portal for voters to request an absentee ballot that feeds directly into the voter registration system is an important step to help verify addresses, collect contact information, and to remove administrative steps to process a large amount of requests. It can also serve as an up to date source of information for voters. We encourage an integrated process that allows new voters to register, current voters to make changes to their address and make requests for ballots in a seamless manner.
Rhode Island already has drop boxes and allows drop off at election offices; adding polling place drop off and vote centers would further lessen the reliance on the postal service and increase voter convenience and confidence.
Rhode Island should eliminate its witness and notary requirement, as it both raises barriers and is less secure than signature matching.
Expanding accepting of ballots with Election Day postmarks received shortly after election day is a best practice to ensure that voters are given all options to vote their ballot in a timely manner, and one that Rhode Island already follows: Rhode Island already offers postmark acceptance for military and overseas voters. Accepting Election Day postmarks is estimated in most jurisdictions to decrease ballot rejection rates by half. In most jurisdictions, accept postmarked ballots decreases ballot rejection rates by half.
Ballot tracking software such as Ballot Scout or BallotTrax can be a very cost effective tool to improve Rhode Island’s current ballot tracking and increase voter confidence by allowing voters and the election offices to track ballots and serving as another modality to contact voters if there is a signature mismatch or deficiency on their return envelope. An expanded notification system helps keep rejection rates low and increases voter confidence.
Same-day voter registration would improve upon Rhode Island’s automatic voter registration to ensure that any eligible resident who wasn’t automatically registered and wants to cast a ballot in an election can.

Recent Legislation

As of August 16, 2021

In 2020, major changes to the election system did not come through the legislature, but, rather, through executive orders from the Governor’s office, orders from the Secretary of State, and court orders. The Governor postponed the state’s April primary to June and ordered that it be conducted primarily by mail. An order from the Secretary of State instructed that mail ballot applications be sent to all eligible voters for the primary. Later, a Rhode Island judge suspended the requirement that voters fill out a mail ballot in the presence of two witnesses or a notary. This decision was later upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 2021, the Rhode Island legislature did not enact any new laws regarding elections.