Student Voting Guide | Rhode Island

August 15, 2014

This student voting guide explains the laws for the state of Rhode Island. If you wish to vote from your school address, check the student voting guide for the state where you attend school. If you want to cast an absentee ballot in your home state, check the student voting guide for that state.

The Brennan Center is committed to giving students as much information as possible to help you exercise your constitutional right to vote. More than ever in recent history, changes to voting laws are being implemented in ways that can affect your ability to make your vote count. In addition to the content you will find in this Student Voting Guide, we continue to track passed and pending voting law changes here. While we are working to give you up-to-date information, we urge you to be proactive! In order to ensure you have all the information you need before casting your vote, you should also check with your state and local election officials for information about additional requirements or regulations.

This voting guide was last updated August 15, 2014.

Registration

You must be 18 years old by the next election to register and vote in that election,[1]but Rhode Island allows you to preregister to vote when you are 16 years old, which will add you to the voter rolls when you turn 18.[2]

You may register by mail (voter registration forms are available here),[3] at any state agency that provides public assistance[4] including the division of motor vehicles,[5] or in person before the local board or clerk of your town or city, a clerk, or any other authorized individual.[6]  The registration deadline is thirty days before an election (in 2014, the deadline is October 5).[7] If you choose to register by mail, the forms must be postmarked by the deadline and received no later than five days after the deadline.[8]

During a U.S. Presidential Election you may register and vote on Election Day at your city or town hall or at another location designated by your local board of canvassers.[9] If you register on Election Day, you may only cast a ballot for president and vice president, and may not vote in state or local elections.[10]

Residency

Rhode Island law requires that, in order to be a resident for the purposes of voting, you must (i) be physically present where you want to vote, (ii) intend to live there for an “indefinite period,” and (iii) think of your Rhode Island residence as the place to which, when you are absent, you intend to return.[11]

At School.  Students can establish residency in Rhode Island if they have a present intention to remain at their Rhode Island school address for the time being, and they intend to make it their principal home. Any other interpretation of the residency law is unconstitutional.[12] Your student ID can be used as proof of residency as long as it has your name and address on it.[13] Voting in Rhode Island may be considered a declaration of residency, potentially making you subject to other laws that govern state residents.[14]

At Home. Students who lived in Rhode Island before moving elsewhere to attend school, and who wish to establish or keep their Rhode Island voting residency (i.e., at their parents’ Rhode Island address), should have no problem doing so unless they are already registered to vote in another state. Rhode Island does not consider attending school out of your voting district as an abandonment of your residency.[15]

The only way you will lose residency in Rhode Island is by establishing residency in a new state. While registering to vote in another state is not automatically considered abandonment of your Rhode Island residency, some judges or officials might view it as such.[16] If you have established residency in another state and are moving back to Rhode Island with the intent to reside there, you will have to follow the normal registration procedures to re-register in Rhode Island.

Challenges to Residency. Another voter can challenge your eligibility to vote based on your residency by filing a sworn affidavit with the local board of elections and providing some evidence of you in fact not being eligible to vote.[17] The board will give you notice and hold a hearing, where you may be questioned about the facts surrounding your residency: you may be asked about your age, how long you have lived at your address, if you left temporarily why you left and what you regard as your permanent residence, or if you are registered to vote anywhere else.[18] If the challenge is sustained, your registration will be canceled; [19] you can appeal that decision to the state board of elections.[20]

Your eligibility to vote based on residency cannot be challenged at the polls.[21]

Identification

You will be asked to show an ID when you vote at your polling location.[22] ID includes any valid and current document that shows your photograph, including:[23]

If you do not have ID when you go to the polls to vote, or your identity is challenged by a partisan poll watcher or election official,[25] you may vote by provisional ballot.[26]  Your ballot will be counted if your signature on the provisional ballot matches your signature on your voter registration.[27]

Absentee Voting

If you will be absent from the town where you are registered to vote on Election Day you can vote absentee.[28] Absentee ballot applications are available online here. Your application must be received by your local board of canvassers by 4:00 pm on the 21st day before an election.[29]

Your absentee ballot has to be notarized or signed by two witnesses.[30] You must return your absentee ballot to the state board of elections, not the local canvassing board,[31] and the ballot must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.[32]

Last Updated August 15, 2014


[1] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-33(a).

[2] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-33(b).

[3] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-9(a).

[4] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-8.

[5] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-7.

[6] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-10.

[7] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-3(a).

[8] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-9(b).

[9] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-1-3.

[10] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-1-3.

[11] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-1-3.1(a) .

[12] See Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330, 330 (1972); Williams v. Salerno, 792 F.2d 323, 328 (2d Cir. 1986).

[13]  See Voter ID, Rhode Island Board of Elections, http://www.elections.ri.gov/voting/id.php.

[14] Thus, for instance, registering to vote makes you a resident under state motor vehicle registration and drivers’ license laws. R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 31-1-18 (definition of resident); R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 31-3-2 (residents required to register vehicles within 30 days); R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 31-10-1 (residents required to acquire a Rhode Island drivers’ license and surrender all out-of-state licenses). It goes without saying that owing to the operation of R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-50-1 (contest registration) declaring residency in Rhode Island will disqualify you from almost all promotions run on the back of cereal boxes.

[15] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-3.1(a)(4).

[16] See generally 107 A.L.R. 448 (significance of place where one votes or registers to vote on question as to his domicile or residence for other purposes); 44 A.L.R.3d 797 (residence of students for voting purposes).

[17] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-28(a).

[18] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-28(c).

[19] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-28(d).

[20] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-9.1-30.

[21] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-19-27; R.I. Code R. 23-1-28:5(D) (“Challenges are limited to voter identity and for good cause.”).

[22] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-19-24(a).

[23] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-19-24.2(a)(1).

[24] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-19-24.2(c).

[25] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-19-27 (“Whenever the identity of any person offering to vote is challenged at the polling place, that person shall be permitted to vote only using a provisional ballot”); R.I. Code R. 23-1-28:5(D) (“Only election officials or watchers [partisan officials accredited by the local board of canvassers] may file challenges.”).

[26] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-19-24.2(d).

[27] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-19-24.3(b).

[28] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-20-2(4).

[29] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-20-2.1(c).

[30] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-20-23(c).

[31] R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-20-19. The address is “Board of Elections, 50 Branch Ave., Providence, Rhode Island 02904-2790”

[32] R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 17-20-16.