Rhode Island Becomes Ninth State to Adopt Automatic Voter Registration

July 19, 2017

Providence, RI - Rhode Island has become the ninth state in the country to authorize automatic voter registration. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) signed a bill that automatically registers eligible citizens to vote when they interact with the Division of Motor Vehicles, unless they decline.  

Automatic voter registration is a bipartisan approach to registering eligible voters that will save money, and increase accuracy of the rolls and voter participation. It passed with overwhelming support from both chambers in the Rhode Island Legislature. The Ocean State's move to expand access to the rolls comes as the controversial Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which has numerous established vote suppressors among its members, held its first meeting Wednesday.

Eight other states plus Washington, D.C., have approved automatic voter registration. A number of states had strong bipartisan support for the reform, 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 will expand to other state agencies when they have met standards to ensure they can verify voter eligibility requirements.

This continues 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 widespread 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.

“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."

“It is great to see a practical, common-sense approach like AVR be adopted in the states when the federal government is wasting time and money on an illegitimate commission hunting for phantom fraud,” said Natalie E. Tennant, manger for state advocacy for the Brennan Center. “Rhode Island’s accomplishment is a real bright spot.”

Read more about automatic voter registration here.