VRM in the States: Rhode Island

In July 2017, Rhode Island became the eighth state to approve automatic voter registration.

March 28, 2018

Only July 18, 2017, Rhode Island became the eighth state to authorize automatic voter registration, when Gov. Gina Raimondo signed a bill that passed the House and Senate with overwhelming support. Rhode Island’s unique approach requires that the reform be implemented at the DMV, but will expand to other state agencies when they have met standards to ensure they can verify voter eligibility requirements. Learn more about automatic registration here.

Prior Advances in Voter Registration Modernization

This reform builds upon Rhode Island’s existing voter registration modernization efforts:

  • Electronic Voter Registration: Rhode Island launched electronic voter registration at DMV offices in 2005. DMV clerks enter voters’ vocal responses electronically and collect signatures on an electronic pad. Voter registration information is transferred daily to election officials.
  • Online Voter Registration: Rhode Island launched online voter registration through the Secretary of State’s office in 2016. Eligible citizens with a state driver’s license or non-driver ID can use the system to register to vote and update their registration information. 
  • Preregistration: 16- and 17-year-olds can preregister to vote. Those who preregister can vote once they turn 18 without needing to re-register.
  • Electronic Pollbooks: Rhode Island has approved an e-pollbook pilot program. 

Gains from Voter Registration Modernization in Rhode Island  

The steps Rhode Island has taken thus far have yielded increases in voter registration and financial benefits for the state. For example:  

  • During an April 2013 interview with Brennan Center staff, Rhode Island election officials reported reduced staff time spent processing registration forms due to electronic registration. The state has also experienced cost savings because it no longer needs to print and mail forms to DMVs.
  • In 2006, the year after Rhode Island implemented electronic registration, the registration rate at the DMV nearly doubled.   
  • Between the 2016 launch of online voter registration and the November 2016 election, the state received 9,761 new voter registration applications through its online portal.