Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said Friday all active, registered voters in Rhode Island will receive a mail ballot application for the Nov. 3 general election – a first in the state for a presidential election.
“This is going to make it easy for people to vote from home and it’s going to ensure that voters don’t have to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote,” Gorbea said. Applications will start arriving in voters’ homes as early as this week, she said. The idea is to allow residents who choose to vote by mail plenty of time to apply for a ballot, receive it, fill out their ballot, and turn it in on time. Applications and ballots will come with a pre-stamped envelope.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has authorized the Rhode Island National Guard to assist in processing mail ballot applications this year. Sec. Gorbea said the surge of mail ballots from the primary election almost overwhelmed local Boards of Canvassers who normally process these applications. To take some of the burden off local cities and towns, the National Guard was asked to step in and “provide administrative support in processing applications.”
Gorbea stressed what the National Guard will and will not be doing: They’ll open and sort mail ballot applications and prepare them to be processed. They will not actually handle any mail ballots and they will not make any decisions on whether or not a voter receives a mail ballot.
“The National Guard has a unique skill set that can help us safeguard the security of our election system and ensure that all voters who choose to cast their ballot from the safety of their home can do so in an efficient way,” she said.
She said they already did a test run-through and it went very smoothly. However, she said election results are still expected to take a little bit longer than in previous years, due to the expected surge in voter turnout.
Gorbea reminded residents they can easily track their mail ballot applications and ballot HERE – you can see when your application is accepted, when your ballot has been sent to you, and when the ballot has been accepted at the Board of Elections.
If a resident receives a mail ballot application for someone who no longer lives at that residence (a child, for instance, who is grown and lives elsewhere), the envelope has been redesigned to clearly state they should return the application noting the person no longer lives there, she said. This is one of the ways to maintain an accurate voter list.
The vote-by-mail system also aims to help avoid packed polling locations that may cause a dangerous situation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gorbea said.
For those unsure about the postal service, there are 40 secure drop boxes placed all over the state and a box at each polling location to drop off a mail ballot, she said.
These drop boxes will be open 24/7 until 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, and they’ll be available during the emergency voting period for voters to drop off their ballots. She added that voters can bring their ballot to any drop box, regardless of the city and town.
The emergency voting period will start 20 days before the election, and voters can go to their city or town hall during business hours to cast their ballot into a voting machine, just as they would at a polling place. In East Greenwich, that would be the Town Clerk’s office at Town Hall. As with a regular polling station, you will need a valid ID.
Another option is to vote at a polling place in person on Election Day, Johnson said. There’ll be 421 polling places, and 40 additional polling places for voters to cast ballots for president and vice president only. These places will follow the Department of Health guidelines – there’ll be hand sanitizer, masks. and PPE for poll workers.
“I’m here to tell you, Rhode Island voters, that you can absolutely cast a ballot in what we all know is one of the most historic elections that any of us have ever faced,” Gorbea said. “Regardless of your partisan or political or any other kind of background, you can trust that Rhode Island elections will be held in a way that are safe, secure and that protect the health of the voters and of our election officials.”
According to EG Town Clerk Leigh Carney, for the Sept. 8 primary:
- 92 voters cast their ballot at Town Hall
- 395 voters cast their ballot at the polls
- 646 mail ballots were processed
Carney said as of Sept. 9, her office had already processed 1,038 mail ballot applications for the Nov. 3 election.
She also explained what will happen on Election Day if a voter casts a ballot by mail but then comes to the poll to vote.
“The poll pads won’t let them check in on Election Day and will give a message that they have already applied for a mail ballot. If they still demand to vote, they will be directed to the clerk to vote a provisional ballot. These are then reviewed by the Board of Canvassers after all the mail ballots have been processed at the state level, and if there is no record of the voter returning the mail ballot, their provisional vote is counted.”
One more thing – there is still a need for poll workers. If you are interested in working at the polls on Election Day, contact your Local Board of Canvassers or the Board of Elections. In East Greenwich, call (401) 886-8603. High school and college students are welcome!
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