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Elections in 2020 were unlike anything Rhode Island voters had experienced before. In response to the pandemic, state leaders put in place common-sense measures to ensure that COVID-19 didn’t keep us and our neighbors from exercising our most basic right to vote.
People liked these options, and with June 2022’s enactment of the RI Vote Act, voters can look forward to safer and more convenient voting options in this year’s September Primary and November General Elections.
AARP Rhode Island worked alongside a broad coalition of activists that pushed hard for passage in the General Assembly. I’d especially like to thank our steadfast corps of AARP state advocacy volunteers who urged lawmakers to make permanent the changes that served the public so well two years ago.
AARP advocated strongly for passing the Act because it is so important to our members to expand all forms of safe and convenient voting. In our Vital Voices Survey of Rhode Islanders 45 and older conducted at the end of last year, we learned that two-thirds of people surveyed supported these permanent provisions to allow voters choices in the way we vote.
These choices are personal. Fifty-five percent of Rhode Island voters who are older prefer to go to their polling place on election days and 43 percent said they prefer to vote early. Let RI Vote will ensure people have the flexibility they say they need to make their voices heard.
“Voters are going to have an easier time voting in September and November and all elections after that,” Rob Rock, Director of Elections in the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s Office, told me in a recent radio appearance. “One of the biggest parts of the Let Rhode Island Vote Act is that the former mail ballot requirement to have two witnesses or a notary sign your mail ballot envelope is no longer a requirement. Rhode Island and Alabama were the only two states that had that requirement before the governor signed the new law in June.”
The requirement, waived for Rhode Island voters in the 2020 Presidential Preference election, the Primary, and the General Election, survived a court challenge at the time.
“The law also codifies early voting,” Rock further explained. “Previously, early voting was known as the ‘emergency mail ballot process,’ which was rather misnamed in our opinion. You didn’t need an ‘emergency’ to vote early in Rhode Island. Now, we’re calling it what it actually is.”
The new law also allows a voter to apply for a mail ballot online; shortens the deadline to request a Braille ballot; expands who is eligible to be on the ‘permanent mail ballot application list’ to include long-term nursing home residents; and makes permanent the secure mail ballot dropboxes that were used in every community in 2020.
Rob Rock was very helpful in explaining all the changes and answering questions during a June AARP Rhode Island Tele-Town Hall. If you missed it, you can listen to a recording we have posted at www.aarp.org/RIReplays. He’ll join us on July 14 at 10 a.m. for a webinar on when, where and how to vote. Register at www.aarp.org/RIEvents.
Also, AARP has launched a “How to Vote in Rhode Island” web page, www.aarp.org/RIVotes, where you can find registration deadlines, how to request a mail ballot and much more.
Leading up to the September 13 Primary and the November 8 General Elections, you’ll be hearing a lot about what’s at stake. The future of Social Security and Medicare will be in the hands of the next Congress. In Rhode Island, we will be calling on candidates to tell us where they stand on key issues affecting older constituents and their family members, including what we were told in our Vital Voices survey: shoring up our financial security, developing creative solutions to the direct care worker shortage, improving access to an array of affordable/accessible housing options, increasing support for family caregivers, and building more livable communities for all ages and abilities.
The 50+ are going to decide the next election. Together we’ve won the fight to make voting safer and easier. Now AARP Rhode Island is here for you with the latest information on where, when, and how to vote at aarp.org/RIVotes. Make sure you’re ready to make your voice heard on election day. You’re more important than ever.
Catherine Taylor is State Director of AARP Rhode Island.