RI Lawmakers split over mail ballots

Rhode Island state election officials are gearing up for a tidal wave of mail ballots this fall.

“The equipment, the envelopes, we are in a pandemic. There are shortages of all sorts of things. There are 49 other states that are also trying to do voting at home,” said Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.

A fast running clock is why lawmakers in the House judiciary Tuesday debated changes for the Sept. 8 primary and Nov. 3 general election.

On the table, a bill (H7200) to help more voters cast a ballot by mail. Changes to the current law include: creating a centralized processing system, providing secure drop boxes at each city or town hall, and waiving the requirement to get the signature of a witness or notary.

Many who criticize mail voting say that’s a recipe for fraud. Gorbea disagrees.

“The real security around voting from home is not the witnessing or the notary, it’s the verification of the voter’s signature on the application by local election officials and the oath envelope by the state Board of Elections,” said Gorbea.

While the mail ballot changes have the support of Rhode Island’s Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello, it’s gotten a cold shoulder from Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.

His spokesperson released a statement which said Ruggerio opposes the bill.

“Any Rhode Islander who wants a mail ballot can request one. Mailing an unsolicited ballot application and subsequent mail ballot to every Rhode Island voter would be an extraordinary expense during very difficult fiscal times. The process is inefficient, with more than 600,000 ballot applications unreturned during the Presidential Preference Primary, and more than 1,600 votes not counted. It is unnecessary and fiscally imprudent to take on this large expense when every voter who wants to vote by mail already has that option available to them,” said Greg Pare, communications director.

Gorbea told NBC 10 News that the tab for mail ballots and applications would be picked up by Uncle Sam.

“I wish the Senate president had called me up before making that statement, I would have explained to him that we actually received $3 million specifically for elections and COVID related expenses, so we have several million dollars that are available that we can’t really use for anything else,” said Gorbea.

A separate bill (H8102) allowing 20 days of early emergency voting was also heard by the judiciary committee on Tuesday.

by PARKER GAVIGAN, NBC 10 NEWS

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