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AARP AARP States Rhode Island

Kathleen Connell: 50+ Voters Deserve Choices


As published in the Providence Journal, April 29, 2021

I’ve served in a variety of roles over the course of my career, including as Secretary of State. For the past 20 years, I have been the State Director of AARP Rhode Island. I am preparing to retire in the coming weeks, and as I leave, I urge the Rhode Island General Assembly to adopt the legislation in the Let RI Vote campaign (H 6003/S 0516 and H 5983/S 0569) being led by the 27-member Voting Access Coalition.

Rhode Island’s mail ballot laws are among the most restrictive in the United States. We are one of only three states, along with Alabama and North Carolina, that require the signature of two witnesses or a notary public on a mail ballot. That requirement was lifted, due to the pandemic, for the last four elections without any negative consequences. It should be permanently removed, and election officials should rely on the enhanced signature verification process in the Let RI Vote campaign.

Hundreds of thousands of Rhode Island voters used mail ballots for the first time in 2020. Many will want to continue to use them when the pandemic has ended. The Let RI Vote campaign would expand the permanent mail ballot list to any eligible voters. Rather than requiring the Secretary of State to send paper mail ballot applications to all voters, as she did three times in the last 12 months, the Let RI Vote campaign would allow eligible voters to request a mail ballot online – just as they can when registering to vote.

Not all voters, including 50+ voters, want to vote by mail. Voters should be provided choices, and the Let RI Vote legislation would provide that choice by preserving Election Day voting as we know it. It would also expand the option for early voting to include a weekend. Some voters like to see their ballot counted by the machine, and with these options they can do that at their convenience.

When I was Secretary of State, voter registration was a paper process. It took weeks to finalize and print the poll books for Election Day. Now, voter registrations are kept in a secure statewide database, and voters check-in to vote using an iPad. That’s why we should eliminate the 30-day deadline to register to vote. It’s the nation’s longest deadline and a relic of the paper era of voter registration.

The Let RI Vote campaign would put a question on the ballot to amend our state constitution and allow same-day registration. 21 states and the District of Columbia have shown that same-day registration is both secure and inclusive. On average, it increases voter turnout more than 10 percent.

The Secretary of State is also responsible for sending ballots to military and overseas voters. Federal law requires that these ballots be sent 45 days before an Election Day so they can be returned in time and counted. Rhode Island has one of the latest primary election dates in the country, jeopardizing our ability to get ballots to those serving our country. The Let RI Vote campaign moves our primary earlier in the year to ensure that those living and serving overseas can vote.

Now is the time for the General Assembly to enact these changes to make it easier for voters – especially those 50+ – to make their voices heard. 2022 is another big election year, with contests for statewide offices. By adopting the Let RI Vote campaign in 2021, the Rhode Island Legislature will give state and local election officials time to properly implement changes.

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