Early voting looks headed for impasse again in Rhode Island
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The effort to expand early voting in Rhode Island appears headed for an impasse for the fifth year in a row.
Advocates for Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s proposal, which has stalled in House and Senate committees, say they remain hopeful lawmakers will revisit the measure, but legislative leaders demurred when asked whether it would be considered again.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio told The Associated Press no decision has been made.
“We’re looking at early voting. We had the hearings,” he said. “Some people like it. Some people don’t.”
Residents can already apply for “emergency mail ballots” at their city or town halls within 20 days of an election. Those ballots proved increasingly popular in 2016.
The bill would let those voters cast ballots in person just as they would if it were Election Day. Gorbea said it makes voting more convenient and eliminates the risk of mistakes, which disqualify some mail ballots every year.
While many lawmakers, including Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, support the measure, there has been opposition from some cities and towns about the costs of implementing the new procedure. And as the session’s deadline looms — legislators are aiming for a June 22 closing date — there’s something else holding the bill back: Lawmakers are worried about their own re-election.
“I think there’s trepidation amongst many people, not just the leadership, about changing the method of voting because they were elected using the current method,” said John Marion, the executive director of the advocacy group Common Cause, which has advocated for the proposal.
Rep. Edith Ajello, the Democratic vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said she supports the bill but has heard from concerned co-workers.
“Some of my colleagues are worried that early voting takes away their ability to campaign district-wide right up until Election Day,” Ajello said.
Democratic Sen. Erin Lynch Prata, who sponsored the bill, said no one has broached those concerns with her.
“We want people to vote,” she said.
Gorbea continues to talk with legislative leadership and said she remains “cautiously optimistic” that it will get passed this session. But Marion wasn’t so hopeful.
“I know it’s not dead,” he said, before adding: “I haven’t gotten any indication that it’s going to get a vote.”