Blazejewski proposes early voting in Rhode Island

STATE HOUSE – In one well-publicized case, voters at one South Providence polling location waited in lines for more than three hours to cast their votes in November's general election.

Crowds and long lines can be deterrents for busy voters, but in 32 other states and Washington, D.C., they can avoid the wait by voting before Election Day.

Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence) wants Rhode Islanders to have the same opportunity.

Representative Blazejewski has introduced legislation (2013-H 5565) that would allow registered voters to begin voting in person at designated locations beginning 21 days before a general election through the Saturday before Election Day. For primary elections, the early voting period would begin 13 days before the scheduled primary day and conclude the Saturday before it.

The legislation specifies that early voting locations shall be open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except Thursdays and Fridays, when the hours would be noon to 8 p.m.

"It's really important that all citizens have ample opportunity to vote. A majority of states now recognize that one day isn't enough time to provide that opportunity. Especially when there are problems that slow things down like there were at some polling places during the last election, doing it all in a single day can sometimes mean very, very long lines. Spreading out the crowds through early voting is a way we can fix that problem," said Representative Blazejewski.

The legislator said the bill is designed to provide a variety of hours for voting, including weekends, to provide times that suit nearly anyone's schedule.

"People have widely different needs, and my goal is to make it so that anyone, no matter what hours they keep, will be able to find some time when it is convenient for them to cast their ballot," he said. "Voting is a civic responsibility, but it should not be such a time-consuming, difficult task that it disenfranchises working people or those who just need to pick up their kids from daycare on time."

Under the legislation, early voting would take place in much the same manner as

voting on Election Day, using voting booths and ballot boxes. The ballots would be collected periodically after hours by state elections officials, with all early ballots collected and delivered to the State Board of Elections before Election Day. They would then be counted in a manner similar to the way mail ballots are counted. A provision in the bill prohibits local officials or anyone else from printing vote totals from early voting before the scheduled closing of polls on Election Day.

The bill exempts special elections from the early voting requirement, since turnout is usually relatively low and such elections are generally held on a tight schedule to address a pressing need.

The bill was introduced Feb. 14 and is cosponsored by Rep. Jeremiah T. O'Grady (D-Dist. 46, Lincoln, Pawtucket), Rep. Larry Valencia (D-Dist. 29, Richmond, Hopkinton, Exeter), Rep. Mia A. Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) and Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence).

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457