Rhode Island Poised to Become Next State to Adopt Automatic Voter Registration

June 30, 2017

Providence, RI - The Rhode Island State Senate approved a bill late tonight 27 to 5 that would automatically register eligible citizens to vote when they interact with the Division of Motor Vehicles unless they decline.

This action follows a unanimous vote last month by the Rhode Island House of Representatives to bring automatic voter registration to the Ocean State. The measure now goes to Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) who supported the proposal and is expected to sign it.

If signed, Rhode Island would join eight other states plus Washington, D.C., to approve automatic voter registration. Many of the states passed the measure with strong bipartisan support, including Illinois, where legislation is awaiting the governor’s signature after unanimous votes in both chambers.

Rhode Island’s unique approach requires that the reform be implemented at the DMV, but expand to other state agencies when they have met rigorous standards to ensure they can verify voter eligibility requirements.

The legislation is another installment of voter registration modernization efforts championed by Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. Last year, the state legislature approved and the Secretary implemented online voter registration, supported new voting equipment, and an electronic poll book pilot program.

Automatic voter registration had wide spread support from various groups in Rhode Island including Common Cause Rhode Island, ACLU Rhode Island, Young Democrats of Rhode Island, RI League of Women Voters, Providence Student Union, Working Families Party, NAACP Providence Branch, Generation Citizen, and RI Coalition for the Homeless, along with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

“I promised Rhode Islanders that I would work to ensure that elections in our state are fair, fast and accurate. Having clean voter lists is critical to preserving the integrity of our elections, which is why I made Automatic Voter Registration a priority of my administration,” said Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea. “This legislation will help reduce the bloat in our voter rolls resulting from unintentional, duplicate voter registrations and the potential for voter fraud. I thank House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio; our sponsors Representative David Coughlin, Jr. and Senator Gayle Goldin; and the entire General Assembly for their overwhelming support of legislation that will further our efforts to modernize elections in Rhode Island.”

“While the Presidential Fraud Commission and the Trump DOJ were busy laying the groundwork for voter suppression, the legislators of Rhode Island were working hard on behalf of voters,” said Natalie E. Tennant, manager for state advocacy at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Automatic Voter Registration is sound policy that will make voting more secure and accessible.”

Read more about Automatic Voter Registration here.

For an interview with Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, contact Nicole Lagace at nlagace@sos.ri.gov or 401-222-2357. For an interview with a Brennan Center expert, contact Rebecca Autrey at rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu or 646-292-8316. 

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