Rhode Island sees changes at the polls; what voters need to know

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island voters can be confident that their vote is secure and will be properly counted, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said Monday, the day before Election Day 2016.

“Despite what you may have heard in other places, in Rhode Island, the integrity of elections is secure,” Gorbea said in an interview with Eyewitness News.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday that they will be monitoring polls on the ground in Providence and Pawtucket, among dozens of other jurisdictions across the country, to assure voters’ rights are upheld.

Rhode Island’s new voting machines were rolled out in the primary, and will make their general election debut on Tuesday. When you insert your ballot, the machine communicates your votes to the Board of Elections by a cellular modem in a double-encrypted transmission, and they’re treated as unofficial results. A “data stick” that’s also double-encrypted also saves the record, a paper receipt is printed out from the tabulators at the end of the night with tallies, and the ballots themselves will be retained as the final say, Gorbea said.

In the unlikely event somebody were to try to “hack” a voting machine, the results would simply be delayed —  counting would be done manually, Gorbea said.

“The voters’ intent is safeguarded by those paper ballots,” she asserted.

Board of Elections member Steve Erickson showed Eyewitness News the workstations at the BOE that will receive information as it comes in. With the new machines, “we will have many of the results very quickly after the polls close at 8 o’clock,” said Erickson. In the BOE basement, mail ballots were being certified Monday by officials through a secure system that involved lock-boxes and strict training.

20,000 voters submitted mail ballots and 12,000 voted by emergency ballot as of Monday morning, Gorbea said.

Signing in to vote will be done by the old-fashioned binders at most locations, but 57 polling places will have electronic tablets for voters to check in on. The tablets scan your Rhode Island driver’s licenses or ID, and Gorbea says the process is faster and easier for poll workers and voters alike. Those electronic tablets are expected to replace paper binders by the 2018 election — as long as they get approved in the state budget.

New this year, Rhode Island voters won’t have the option of a “master lever,” or straight-party voting. Voters will have to select a candidate in each race they want to vote in down the ticket.

Rhode Island voters do need to bring a government-issued photo ID to the polls, but those who only have another type of ID, such as an employee ID, are eligible for a free Rhode Island Voter card. If you have nothing, or forget your ID, you’ll be able to vote using a provisional ballot and will get a receipt with a number to track it — so you’ll know if it was accepted in the end.

It will take a few extra days to count the provisional ballots, Gorbea said, because every ballot will be viewed by a human to be certified.

If you weren’t registered to vote by the October 9 deadline, you will still be able to vote for President and Vice-President, Gorbea said. Same-day voter registration will be available at certain locations in all Rhode Island cities and towns. For most, the location is city or town hall. Providence voters can do same-day voter registration at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

Massachusetts voters aren’t required to show ID, but elections officials recommend bringing one just in case your identity is questioned.

Finally, casting your ballot may be all in the timing. The busiest poll times are early morning before everyone goes to work, with lighter traffic at lunchtime, and increased traffic at the evening hours, Gorbea said.

As long as you are in line by 8 p.m., when polls close, you won’t be turned away said Gorbea, who knows from experience. “I showed up at 7:59. They were about to close and I showed up and the poll worker said come on in. And I was the last person to vote that night.”

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