Rhode Island to Consider New Limits on Write-in Voting

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Rhode Island’s legislature is considering a bill that would put limits on write-in voting in an effort to reduce the amount of time required to tally joke votes like “Mickey Mouse.” The Providence Journal has more:

Bye-bye Mickey Mouse.

And not just him. Bugs Bunny, Abraham Lincoln, God Almighty, Vermin Supreme and Warren Buffett could also lose their already improbable chances of winning election in Rhode Island if state lawmakers approve new restrictions that the Board of Elections wants to place on write-in candidates…

The House Judiciary Committee on Monday approved legislation [5709] to require that “each voter seeking to be a write-in candidate″ for any federal, state or local office to file a notice of his or her intent no later than the Friday before any election.

A few of the rules: “The declaration of intent shall be signed by the candidate as his or her name appears on the voting list … [with] the [candidate’s] address as it appears on the voting list. … The candidate’s place and date of birth … length of residence in the state and in the town or city where he or she resides … [and] a certification that he or she is [not] serving a sentence [and] has not within the preceding three years served any sentence — incarcerated or suspended, on probation or parole — for a crime committed after November 5, 1986.”

And finally: “A certification that he or she has not been lawfully adjudicated to be of unsound mind.”

The statistics show that write-ins may sometimes be a joke, but they add up to serious numbers:

Write-ins have always added a splash of humor to Rhode Island’s elections, along with an outlet for voters to express their displeasure with the choice of official candidates.

In 2018, President Donald Trump got 37 votes for Rhode Island attorney general. Former Attorney General Arlene Violet got 64. Bugs Bunny got six.

The late Cool Moose Party founder Robert Healey, who once ran to abolish the office of lieutenant governor, got eight votes for governor and 42 for lieutenant governor.

It was a good year for perennial write-in also-ran Mickey Mouse, who picked up at least 309 write-in votes across all races, including 79 for attorney general, 32 for governor and 20 in state Senate District 30 in Warwick.

The goal is to cut down on tallying time for protest and fictional candidates – though opponents argue that voters should have the right to have even those votes tallied:

[I]n a letter to lawmakers, Miguel Nunes, deputy director of elections, said tallying write-ins is a “monumental responsibility” of the local and state boards after an election; in fact, 30,000 write-ins have been tallied so far from the 2018 election. Thirty-one other states require advance “notice of intent″ to run as a write-in candidate: the requirement is two weeks in Connecticut, and one month in Maine and Massachusetts.

If the legislation passes, state and local boards would only be required to tally write-in votes for individuals who filed their notices of intent in advance.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island delivered the counter-argument: “A voter is making a statement by deciding to cast a write-in vote. … It should be respected and counted.”

“Contrary to what we in a democratic society like to say, this proposed legislation would literally mean that every vote does not count,″ the ACLU testified.

If this bill is passed and enacted, I’ll be curious to see if it reduces the burden on election officials as suggested; if nothing else, it will close yet another career avenue for Disney’s famous mouse. Stay tuned…

2 Comments on "Rhode Island to Consider New Limits on Write-in Voting"

  1. Connecticut has had a similar rule regarding write-lin ballot access for several years. Only votes for certified write-ins are reported, announced, or counted. A simple letter to the SOTS gets you on the ballot. I’m not sure if the requirements, but a list of certified candidates is sent to the polling place Moderators, but not posted, The list is available from the Moderator.

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