STATE HOUSE – The House today approved a measure that would send mail ballot applications to every Rhode Island voter ahead of both the September primaries and the November election.

The bill, sponsored by House Deputy Majority Whip Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence), is intended as a way to help Rhode Islanders exercise their fundamental right to vote without compromising their health and safety this year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sending mail ballot applications to all qualified voters promotes full voter participation in a very important election occurring in the middle of a global pandemic. We should be encouraging as many voters as possible to vote by mail in order to protect public health while ensuring that voters may safely and securely choose their next president as well as their state and local officials,” said Representative Blazejewski. “A great many poll workers and voters are senior citizens, or may be immunocompromised or have underlying heath conditions, and they are all at an elevated risk from COVID-19. The more people who cast their vote by mail, the less exposure the people of Rhode Island face.”

The legislation (2020-H 7200A) would apply only to this year’s Sept. 8 primaries and the general election on Nov. 3, not future elections. It would temporarily waive provisions requiring voters to have a reason to need to vote by mail instead of in person, as well as notary or witness requirements.

The bill would also require that local boards of canvassers operate drop boxes where voters can drop off their ballot until 8 p.m. on the days of the elections. It additionally allows the Secretary of State’s office to process ballots centrally, sending back to local boards of canvassers for review those ballots that it deems insufficient.

Massachusetts has announced similar plans for its primaries and general election. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Common Cause and other advocacy groups have all called for the state to take steps to encourage voting by mail this year because of the pandemic.

“In keeping with the bedrock principles of our democracy, Rhode Islanders should not have to choose between their health and safety, on the one hand, and exercising their right to vote, on the other.  Mail ballots are a safe, secure form of voting that has been employed around the nation for well over a century. Encouraging people to use them will strengthen our elections by boosting participation and giving a voice to many who might otherwise stay away from the polling place out of very justified health concerns,” said Representative Blazejewski.

The bill is cosponsored by Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren), Rep. Mia A. Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln), Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol) and Rep. Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence). It will be forwarded to the Senate. 

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