Rhode Island’s recent Primary Election saw a surge in voter participation despite the challenges of dealing with COVID-19, thanks in part to our efforts to make voting convenient and secure.
More than 90,000 Rhode Island voters participated in this month’s primary, despite the fact that 16 percent of all voters did not have a contested race in their local jurisdiction. Whether voting from home using mail ballots, voting early in-person at their local city or town hall, or voting at the polls on Primary Day, voters turned out in near-record numbers. As a result, and not surprisingly, a record number of women and people of color were elected. While this can be attributed to several factors, one thing is clear. When you make it easier for people to vote, more people will vote – even during a pandemic.
As Secretary of State, my top priority has been from day one to make voting convenient and secure for all Rhode Islanders. From upgrading our voting infrastructure to modernizing our election laws to meet the challenges of contemporary life, to fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court so that Rhode Islanders have safe voting options during this unprecedented pandemic, I am proud of our efforts to increase voter participation and ensure that voters aren’t forced to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote.
As a result, many Rhode Islanders have embraced the opportunity to vote early. In fact, a full 42% of all votes cast in the Primary were mail ballots. Another 8% of votes were cast in the days leading up to the Primary, in-person at city and town halls. This increase in early voting has changed the way we prepare for elections, and I am proud of our work in collaboration with the Rhode Island Board of Elections and local boards of canvassers across the state. With only weeks to go before the Presidential Election on November 3, we are working diligently to ensure that every voter can safely and securely cast a ballot, and that every legitimate ballot is counted.
Earlier this month, my office sent mail ballot applications to Rhode Island voters. Based on our experience during the past two elections, we are expecting a record number of mail ballots for the Nov. 3 Election and have prepared accordingly. We have acquired new, state of the art equipment for the Board of Elections. At my request, Governor Raimondo has authorized the Rhode Island National Guard to assist us in processing mail ballot applications, thus ensuring that voters who request a mail ballot receive it in a timely manner.
Additionally, the Board of Elections has installed drop boxes in all cities and towns so that voters have that option to securely return their completed mail ballots. We have also participated in election security tabletop exercises in collaboration with the RI National Guard, the State Police, the Department of Homeland Security and other stakeholders, to ensure that we are prepared for any possible scenario.
There are many moving parts in any election, especially during a pandemic. We have been working diligently to ensure that the Nov. 3 Election is a resounding success. However, the most important role in any election is that of the voter. When more voters take part in an election, our democracy is strengthened and we all benefit. Whether you choose to vote from home, vote early in-person or vote at the polls on Election Day, your participation is critical. I’m proud of the work that I have led to make voting convenient and secure, in partnership with the Board of Elections and all stakeholders, and I urge you now to do your part by casting a ballot.
— Nellie M. Gorbea is Rhode Island’s Secretary of State