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Both chambers of the General Assembly on Tuesday gave their final approval to legislation sponsored by Sen. Gayle Goldin and Rep. Aaron Regunberg to allow Rhode Islanders to register to vote or update their voter information online. The bill is now headed to the governor’s desk.
The legislation, which the two Providence legislators introduced in conjunction with Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, authorizes the secretary of state to establish a web portal to allow voters to register or update their existing registration information online. The bill would allow the Department of State to cross-reference application information with information in the databases of other state, municipal or quasi-public agencies to verify the information submitted by applicants.
The sponsors said online voter registration is a convenience that citizens should be able to expect in an age when so much of their daily business can be conducted online.
“It’s time to bring voter registration into the 21st century. Making voter registration available online means it’s conveniently accessible to Rhode Islanders 24 hours a day, so no matter how busy they may be or what kind of hours they work, they have the opportunity to be a registered voter,” said Regunberg, of House District 4. “Electronic registration will encourage more Rhode Islanders, especially younger people, to register to vote by eliminating the necessity of having to get to City Hall during business hours, and will help get more people involved in the democratic process.”
Electronic registration can also help eliminate errors and confusion, while saving the state money, they said.
“This legislation is a way to make government work more efficiently for citizens,” said Goldin, of Senate District 3. “Allowing people to type in their own information means no one has to transcribe handwritten applications, eliminating an opportunity for errors as well as a time-consuming task for public employees. At least one study has shown that the reduction in paperwork has saved the public money. And allowing voters the ability to check and update their registration records online can help eliminate hassles that might otherwise result in problems at the polls for them.”
SoS Gorbea was also delighted by the bill:
“This legislation will make it easier for citizens to register to vote and update their voter information, and it will improve the accuracy and integrity of Rhode Island’s voter rolls,” she said. “I thank House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed along with bill sponsors Sen. Gayle Goldin, Rep. Aaron Regunberg, and the full House and Senate for working to modernize our elections and engage more Rhode Islanders in our electoral process.”
The bill also authorizes the state to participate in multistate exchanges of registration information, which suggests that the state could join the Electronic Registration Information Center:
The secretary of state may enter into an agreement and exchange information or data 17 with any other state exclusively for the purposes of updating the statewide central voter register 18 and registering voters, provided such activities are performed under the supervision of the 19 secretary of state and the secretary of state enters into an agreement to protect the confidentiality 20 of such information or data. A Rhode Island state agency shall provide the secretary of state with 21 information or data to be used exclusively for voter registration purposes and shall advise the 22 secretary of state if such information or data is held confidential. [New 17-9.1-34(f)]
If signed the bill, which enjoyed overwhelming support in both houses, means that Rhode Island will join thirty-plus states and the District in offering OVR to its residents – meaning that two out of every three states now has (or is implementing) a system to allow citizens to register or update their voter records online. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues, or if we have reached the point where states without OVR either have no interest or (like Ohio) face stubborn opposition in the legislature.
Still, it’s big news for the nation’s smallest state. Stay tuned …