The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Ari Savitzky, FairVote Rhode Island - / 401-529-3982
Paul Fidalgo, FairVote communications director - / 301-270-4616

Rhode Island Legislature Overrides Electoral Reform Vetoes

FairVote Catalyst for Major Wins for Youth Pre-registration, Elections for U.S. Senate Vacancies


The Rhode Island State Senate and House of Representatives yesterday
voted to override two gubernatorial vetoes of landmark electoral reform
legislation, thereby enacting FairVote-initiated measures allowing
voter pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds and mandating popular
elections to fill all U.S. Senate vacancies.

a nonpartisan think tank devoted to improving American elections, has
been a leader in the drive to bring these reforms to Rhode Island
through the efforts of its state affiliate, FairVote Rhode Island. In
2006, FairVote was the key catalyst for the advance registration
legislation, working closely with prime sponsor Rep. Edwin Pacheco. The
bill (S 0085/H 5005) will allow 16 and 17-year-old Rhode Island
citizens to "pre-register" to vote, automatically adding them to the
rolls for the first election for which they are eligible. Starting in
2006, this measure easily passed both houses of the Rhode Island
legislature four times with bipartisan support, only to inexplicably
face Gov. Donald Carcieri's veto pen each time.

FairVote this year helped usher in legislation introduced by Rep.
Christopher Fierro and Sen. Paul Jabour mandating special elections for
the filling of vacated U.S. Senate seats (S 0201/H 5094), the need for
which became alarmingly apparent in the wake of controversies and
scandals surrounding governor-appointed senators after the 2008
election. Rhode Island's own David Segal, a FairVote analyst, testified in 2009
before the U.S. Senate on behalf of a constitutional amendment
mandating Senate vacancy elections backed by leading Republicans and
Democrats, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI),
while Connecticut's Republican governor Jodi Rell signed legislation
passed out of the Democratically-controlled legislature last year,
though Gov. Carcieri rejected a similar bill that had once again
passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support.
Both vetoes were easily overturned by both houses of the Rhode Island legislature Tuesday.

"We are proud to have helped lay the groundwork for today's important
victories," said Rob Richie, elections expert and FairVote executive
director. "With the good will and strong advocacy provided over the
years by FairVote and like-minded reformers-such as the leadership of
both houses, Reps. Edwin Pacheco and Christopher Fierro, Sens. Paul
Jabour and Rhoda Perry, and Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis-Rhode
Island voters will now have expanded access for its newest voters and
the final word about who represents them in the U.S. Senate. This is a
good day for democracy in Rhode Island - and the nation."

Tuesday's events in Providence are the latest in a major nationwide
sweep of pro-democracy reforms backed by FairVote. Youth
pre-registration measures have gained enormous ground all across the
country, with new legislation recently passed in several states. In
2009, FairVote worked closely with Democracy North Carolina to build a
bipartisan legislative majority in support of pre-registration for
16-year-olds in that state, which also included a significant civics
education component. Also in 2009, with the signature of Republican
governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, California enacted a 17-year-old
pre-registration measure- an effort led by FairVote ally the New
America Foundation. The District of Columbia recently passed sweeping
election reform legislation which included pre-registration measures,
which was supported by testimony
to the DC City Council from FairVote's Adam Fogel. In 2008, FairVote
helped bring about pre-registration legislation in Florida that was
supported by both a Republican governor and Republican legislative

Meanwhile, several other
states are either in the process of passing or considering similar
bills, all with FairVote as a crucial source of research and support,
and congressional legislation is anticipated to support the idea
nationally. Commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a new report by
George Mason University professor Michael McDonald found that voter
pre-registration in Hawaii and Florida has a direct impact on youth
registration and participation when accompanied by civic education
initiatives at schools and government agencies.
FairVote has also been at the forefront of the movement to mandate
special elections for filling U.S. Senate vacancies in the same manner
that U.S. House vacancies are required to be filled: by election of the
people. David Segal's commentary on this issue has appeared in the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, and just weeks before last year's win in Connecticut, the Hartford Courant, and Rob Richie's commentary was published in the Miami Herald.

FairVote acts to transform our elections to achieve universal access to participation, a full spectrum of meaningful ballot choices and majority rule with fair representation for all. As a catalyst for change, we build support for innovative strategies to win a constitutionally protected right to vote, universal voter registration, a national popular vote for president, instant runoff voting and proportional representation.