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Gov. Raimondo orders postponement of Rhode Island primary

Following advice from Board of Elections, Rhode Island pushes primary later in light of COVID-19

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 26, 2020

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order Monday postponing the 2020 presidential primary and shifting to a predominantly mail ballot model in light of escalating COVID-19 concerns. The election will occur June 2, according to the order, over a month later than the original date of April 28. 

Raimondo announced her decision on Twitter: “Last week, the Board of Elections requested that the presidential primary election be postponed from April 28 to June 2 and that the election take place primarily by mail ballot,” she wrote, adding, “I am following the advice of the Board of Elections, and will sign an executive order to do this.”

The impetus behind the Board of Elections’ date change request was the uncertainty and public health concerns surrounding COVID-19, said Miguel J. Nunez, the board’s deputy director of elections.

The Board of Elections and the Board of Canvassers also need the extra time to prepare for the election, given the complications created by the virus, Nunez added.

The new emphasis on mail ballots is intended to help limit the spread of COVID-19, said Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. The switch to mostly mail ballots is “making sure that Rhode Islanders cast their ballots in a safe and secure manner while we also protect the integrity of every vote,” Gorbea added.

The mail ballot system consists of a two-step process. First, every registered voter will be sent a mail ballot application, Gorbea said. Voters will also be provided with a postage pre-paid envelope in which to return their completed ballot application. Second, once the state receives the mail ballot application, each voter will be sent their actual ballot with a postage pre-paid return envelope, Gorbea added. 

In addition to the mail ballots, there will be physical polling places in every city and town. “We are not eliminating polling locations, so if someone doesn’t do the mail ballot, they are always welcome to do a ballot at the polling location,” Gorbea said.

With this executive order, Rhode Island joins a number of other states and territories that have decided to postpone the dates of their primaries. To date, Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio and Puerto Rico have all decided to move their elections.

Though this policy change will likely cause a sizable uptick in the number of mail ballots the Board of Elections will receive compared to other election cycles, the board has “adequate capacity to count the expected number” of ballots that will be cast, Nunez said. 

“State law allows us to be counting the ballots 20 days prior to election day,” Nunez added, “so we would plan to begin counting before the election.” This will help the Board of Elections to keep up with the influx of ballots and report results as close to election day as possible, he explained.

Ocean State voters can go to vote.ri.gov to find their polling locations and instructions and announcements regarding the presidential preference primary.

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