Metro, News

State Senator proposes reforms to voting, campaigning accessibility

Five bills sponsored by Senator Gayle Goldin referred to Judiciary Committee

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2019

State Senator Gayle Goldin (D-Providence) sponsored five bills proposing various reforms to the way Rhode Island voters and candidates participate in the electoral process.

The five bills include the following proposals: allowing for paid time off on election day to vote (SB 316), requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to be included on RI ballots (SB 342), allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they will turn 18 before or on the general election date (SB 318, 319), allowing candidates with children to use campaign funds to pay for childcare (SB 323) and repealing Rhode Island’s voter ID law (SB 339). All of these bills were referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 13.

Goldin has seen opposition in attempts to codify paid time off on election day, with previous legislation failing to reach Gov. Gina Raimondo’s desk. This bill, inspired by 21 other states with similar practices, would help further the discussion about “how people access their right to vote,” Goldin said.

Goldin was motivated by her son, 17 years old, to support opening primaries to 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before or on the general election. “It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to allow you to vote in the general election but not in the primary because of when your birthday falls,” she said.

The proposal to allow campaign fund usage for childcare supports the State Senator’s goal of widening the field of potential candidates. Goldin hopes to follow the lead of the federal government, which allows candidates to use campaign funds for childcare as of May 2018.  The law would “remove a barrier” to running for office that parents face, Goldin said.

The proposals are not all new. Since Goldin’s election to the General Assembly in 2011, she has twice proposed a bill requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns to be included on the ballot. The proposal regarding tax returns failed in the State Senate in 2017 but passed in 2018. Yet the House never voted on the Senate’s bill.

Goldin has also “introduced a bill to repeal voter ID (every year) since (she) was elected to office,” she said. Goldin expressed some doubts that the bill would pass the Senate, as there are “several people who voted for (the voter ID law who) are still in office,” yet she remains hopeful due to the increased number of Senators co-sponsoring the bill this legislative session.

To garner support for the anti-voter ID bill this year, Goldin cited a recent study about the effects of the RI voter ID law on turnout and registration published in the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study, conducted by University Professor of International and Public Affairs and Economics Justine Hastings, found a decline of total votes by 0.42 percent since the law was enacted in 2011. “This study is an example of how science can help further our understanding of public policy,” Hastings wrote in an email to The Herald.

Common Cause Rhode Island, “a nonpartisan organization that promotes representative democracy,” according to their website, has supported efforts to repeal the voter ID law as well as attempts to make election day a holiday. “As an organization, of course we’re very supportive of increasing voter access to the ballot for eligible voters,” said John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island.

This support was echoed by the Brown Progressive Action Committee. “We support all of those bills. … We’re very passionate about voting rights and voter accessibility,” said Jenna Israel ’21, co-chair of BPAC. Israel went on to say that BPAC has supported a repeal of the voter ID law for “as long as I’ve been a part of the organization.” Support for the other bills is also consistent with BPAC’s mission. Senate Bill 323, regarding the use of campaign funds for childcare, especially excites the progressive group. “We’d love to see more diverse candidates in government. That bill would certainly impact women and make a positive impact on their lives,” Israel said.