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Mail-in ballots for the U.S. presidential election are sorted at the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorders' mail-in ballot processing center at the Pomona Fairplex in Pomona, California, October 28, 2020. (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Mail-in ballots for the U.S. presidential election are sorted at the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorders' mail-in ballot processing center at the Pomona Fairplex in Pomona, California, October 28, 2020. (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

'Major Milestone' as Rhode Island Expands Voting Rights

A newly passed measure was praised as "a huge step forward in improving and modernizing voting in the Ocean State."

Andrea Germanos

Democracy defenders are cheering passage of a bill in Rhode Island that expands access to the ballot—a measure its proponents say is especially notable in light of nationwide attacks on the franchise.

“Like an honest and accurate public education, expanded access to voting is foundational to society and critical to our democracy."

The measure in question, the Let RI Vote Act, easily passed the state House in a 52-13 vote after companion legislation passed earlier in the Senate. It now heads to Democratic Gov. Dan McKee, who previously urged lawmakers to pass the bill to "stand on the right side of history."

"This is a major milestone in the history of voting rights in Rhode Island," said Marcela Betancur, spokesperson for the Let RI Vote Campaign and executive director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, of the bill's passage.

If signed into law, the legislation would codify changes in the voting process instituted during the pandemic.

"As we saw in 2020," said lead sponsor state Rep. Katherine Kazarian (D-63), "early voting alternatives were used by a large portion of our population and the results of this change in voting patterns produced a smooth and secure election process that ensured that everyone's vote was safely counted."

Among the key provisions are reducing the application deadline time for requesting a Braille ballot; eliminating the requirement of two witnesses or a notary for mail-in ballots; letting voters apply for a mail ballot online; providing no-excuse mail ballots and emergency voting; ensuring every community has at least one ballot box where voters can drop off ballots through the close of polls on Election Day; and enacting more frequent voter roll cleanup.

Kevin Nerney, director of RI Developmental Disabilities Council, said his group was "thankful" for passage of the Let RI Vote Act.

"This bill removes many significant barriers that interfere with the right to vote for people with developmental disabilities," said Nerney. "Rhode Island is one step closer to the promise of self-determination and autonomy for people with developmental disabilities.”

National Education Association Rhode Island president Lawrence Purtill said: "Like an honest and accurate public education, expanded access to voting is foundational to society and critical to our democracy. Passage of H7100A is a huge step forward in improving and modernizing voting in the Ocean State and our thanks are with House leadership, the bill sponsors, and the representatives who voted in favor.”

Gov. McKee issued a statement following the House vote in which he called the legislation "a comprehensive set of common-sense tools to protect Rhode Islanders' voting rights."

"Over the past year, our democracy has been tested and we must do everything we can to protect it," he said.

"I'm looking forward to the legislation reaching my desk," he added. "I'm ready to sign it."


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