State of Elections

William & Mary Law School | Election Law Society

Category: Rhode Island

Are Rhode Island’s Mail-In Ballots a “Gigantic, Illegal Loophole?”

By: Eric Lynch

Ken Block, a two-time former gubernatorial candidate, made headlines in early October 2017 over a provocative tweet regarding voter identification (“voter-ID”) and mail-in ballots. Mr. Block claimed that mail-in ballots violated Rhode Island’s voter-ID law and are effectively a “gigantic, illegal loophole” to performing widespread voter fraud. Block implored the Rhode Island legislature to attend to this matter immediately. In response, Mr. Stephen Erickson, a Rhode Island State Board of Elections member, considered such a measure as “another effort to limit people’s ability to vote.” Mr. Erickson asserted that the Board “regularly rejects mail[-in] ballots where there is a substantial difference between the two signatures or if the witnesses does not provide enough information so that they can be identified and questioned.”

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Passing Your Vote Through Security:  The Rise of Risk Limiting Audits in Rhode Island 

By: Eric Lynch

In the 2016 election’s aftermath, United States intelligence agencies speculated that the Russian government hacked various government entities and the major political parties in order to influence the election’s results. It was recently confirmed that twenty-one  states were subject to that foreign attack. Experts cautioned states to take responsive measures since many states take little to no precaution at all.  

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Big commission for a small state

Q&A with John Marion of Common Cause on Redistricting in Rhode Island

1. Can you describe the work the Special Commission on Reapportionment has done?

“They’ve met, six times so far. Going around the state, taking testimony from people concerning what the map should look like. But the Commission has not publicly presented any maps. Starting next week it is expected that they will present three or more sets of maps and take them around the state seeking input from the public. They are required by law to choose a plan which is a set of maps and then the legislature has to vote.”

2. What could the Commission do to improve the quality of elections for Rhode Islanders?

“They could continue to do what they seem to be doing, which is taking public input. Besides the public hearings the Commission is allowing members of the public to use the computers that will be used to do the redistricting and draw their own maps and submit them.”

“The Commission should also be publicly debating and trying to rank the criteria that they plan to use and consider when drawing the plans. There are many different legal criteria that must be satisfied but also political criteria that may be taken into account including political competiveness considerations.”

3. What about the process by which the Commission was picked? Continue reading

Politics and pictures: Rhode Island and its new voter ID law

In elections past, Rhode Island has not required photo identification for a ballot to be counted. However, with the passage of a new law the state has at least superficially joined the ranks of states which have approved legislation that will hamper the voting rights of its most vulnerable citizens. Yet the truth may not be so simple. Rhode Island’s law is less restrictive and more benign than legislation passed by other states which may explain the unique politics behind the passage of RI’s new photo identification bill.

The law will be implemented in two stages. “The first stage will require non-photo ID beginning Jan. 1, 2012. The second stage will require photo ID beginning Jan. 1, 2014.”

For the upcoming 2012 election, voters are able to vote by establishing their identity through possession of forms of ID that do not have their photo, “including without limitation”: a birth certificate, social security card, or government-issued medical card. The language “without limitation” can reasonably be construed as meaning that “any current photo identification that includes the name and photograph of the voter will be accepted.” Continue reading

The Runoff Debate Intensifies in Rhode Island Following Governor’s Race

Lincoln Chafee, a former United States Senator, emerged as the winner of this year’s Rhode Island gubernatorial race.  Chafee received only 36% of the vote in a close election that featured three viable candidates.  Additionally, a fourth candidate finished with 6.5% of the vote, which represents about twice the amount of Chafee’s margin of victory.  Few can argue that Governor-elect Chaffee lacks the experience necessary to govern, but the real question in Rhode Island is whether a candidate who receives less than 40% of the vote should be deemed the winner of a statewide election.  Some states’ laws require an additional runoff election that whittles down the number of candidates when no one candidate receives a majority.  Many Rhode Islanders, including term-limited outgoing Governor Donald Carcieri, called for the institution of a runoff election following this year’s race. Continue reading

One Stop Shopping: Rhode Island Initiative Registers Voters at Work

The Newport Mansions, Family Guy, Brown University and the Farrelly brothers are a few of the Ocean State’s more notable features.  To this list, we may soon add “Innovative Voter Registration.”  Rhode Island Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis launched “Voters in the Workplace” in the summer of 2008.  This initiative encourages and enables companies to host voter registration drives during normal business hours between August and October every year.  These months include the registration deadlines for both the state primary and general elections.  The Secretary of State’s office markets the program through social media and direct mail while working with Rhode Island’s chamber of commerce network and trade organizations for human resources managers.

So how does it work? A company contacts the Secretary of State’s office and expresses interest in hosting a voter registration drive for its employees.  In the weeks leading up to the drive the company generally sends out e-mails notifying its workers, posts links to registration forms on their intranet, and displays voter registration posters.  The Secretary of State’s Office supplies the company with all of these materials electronically, even the e-mail template.  Some companies do more: Cox Communications in West Warwick ran promotions on its closed-circuit television network.  On the day of the drive, staff members from the Secretary of State’s office travel to the company and conduct the voter registration.  A drive is usually held in the cafeteria or another gathering space in the workplace during regularly scheduled breaks, lunch, or directly after work.  Staff time spent on a typical registration, including travel, is about two hours.  Chris Barnett of the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s press office indicated there is no discrete budget for the program and “the investment is simply routine overhead.”  Dozens of companies have partnered with the Secretary of State’s office since the program began two years ago. Continue reading

Weekly Wrap Up

Every week, State of Elections brings you the latest news in state election law.

– Winter break at William and Mary is over, and State of Elections is excited to return to a  full time posting schedule. New articles will be posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, beginning on January 11th.

– Senator Chris Dodd has announced he will not seek reelection in 2010.  During his time in the Senate,  Dodd proposed some sweeping changes to voter registration laws.  Take a look at S. 17, Dodd’s proposed “Voting Opportunity and Technology Enhancement Rights Act of 2005”.  If it had been passed, S. 17 would have required states to allow voters to register on election day, and also would have enabled voters to register electronically via the Internet.

– The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the disenfranchisement of felons violates the federal Voting Rights Act.  According to the court, the criminal justice system is so “infected” with racism that limiting the right of felons to vote is contrary to the Act’s prohibition against the denial of voting rights on account of race.  The court’s opinion can be read in full here.

– The Rhode Island Senate and House has enacted legislation allowing 16 and 17 year olds to “pre-register” to vote.  Those that pre-register will be automatically added to the voter rolls will they turn 18.  The bill had been previously vetoed by Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri, but the veto was overridden by the legislature.   For more information on pre-registration, see’s fact sheet.

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