Push for early voting in RI gets town clerks’ support

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A proposal to allow early voting in Rhode Island elections is getting a boost from Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo and the town and city clerks who help run polling places.
Raimondo joined Democratic Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and a coalition of voting reform advocates Wednesday to call on lawmakers to pass legislation allowing in-person early voting, as well as automatic voter registration.

Raimondo said it’s “about access and equity,” making voting more convenient for people juggling jobs and family obligations.

More than 30 states allow voters to cast ballots at polling places in the days or weeks before Election Day.

A proposal in Rhode Island’s Democratic-controlled legislature has stalled for years, in part because of reluctant town governments concerned about the overtime costs and complications of weekend voting. But that resistance has waned in what early voting proponents consider a breakthrough.

“We all collectively agree that there seems to be a great desire on the part of the public to have the opportunity to vote early,” said Louis Cirillo, town clerk in Bristol and president of the Rhode Island Town and City Clerks Association. Members of the group met in Charlestown on Friday to endorse early voting. Gorbea, the state’s top elections official, was at the meeting to pitch the idea.

The state already has a form of early voting through what’s known as “emergency mail ballots,” but “it’s just a cumbersome, paper-heavy process,” Gorbea said.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday is considering a proposal that would create 20 days of in-person early voting. Proponents say it could possibly increase turnout. Some towns want a shorter period — and just one weekend instead of two.

Pawtucket’s top elections official said more people are getting on board after long delays at voting booths during November’s presidential election.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of it, especially after the problems we had in Pawtucket with the long lines,” said Kenneth McGill, registrar for the city’s board of canvassers.

The National Conference of State Legislatures now counts 37 states with some form of early voting, though some Republican-led states are moving to scale it back.

Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has indicated he will sign a bill this week that would reduce the state’s early voting period.