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Rhode Islanders ramp up mail-in, early voting days ahead of election

Early votes cast per day see steady rise with average of 12,000 per day this week. Cast mail-in ballots triple 2016 numbers

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, October 30, 2020

With just four days until Election Day, more than 250,000 Rhode Islanders have already cast their ballots, including more than 136,000 by mail and another 115,000 through early voting, according to official data.

According to the data from Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office, voter turnout as of Oct. 29 was 31.1 percent of all registered voters — nearly two thirds of total 2018 midterm turnout and over half of 2016 turnout — with two days left of early voting and Election Day looming.

Counted mail-in ballots in the Ocean State have already more than tripled from just over 40,000 in 2016’s election. Gorbea’s office received nearly 180,000 applications for mail-in ballots, 98 percent of which were accepted.

Gorbea announced in September that she would send out applications for mail-in ballots to every active voter in the state — a group of over 700,000 people. 

“I am thrilled to see Rhode Islanders participating in record numbers,” Gorbea wrote in an email to The Herald. “High turnout elections nurture our democracy, making sure that a diversity of voices are heard.” 

Of the mail-in ballots accepted by the Rhode Island Board of Elections, 65 percent were from registered Democrats, while nine percent were from Republicans and 26 percent were from unaffiliated voters, according to internal data from Gorbea’s office obtained by The Herald. 

Mail-in voters so far are disproportionately Democrats, given that 44 percent of registered voters in Rhode Island are Democrats, 14 percent are Republicans and 42 percent are unaffiliated, according to the most recent party affiliation data for the Ocean State.

Party affiliations of early voters are consistent with statewide affiliations. Forty-six percent of early voters were Democrats, 17 percent were Republicans and 37 percent were unaffiliated, according to the internal data.

Roughly 7,700 votes have been cast per day, on average, since early voting began Oct. 14, according to the data. Votes per day have been steadily rising since early voting began, with around 12,000 votes cast each day this week.

Rhode Island is offering early voting for the first time this year. Registered voters who have not requested a mail-in ballot can cast ballots in-person at their local board of canvassers, which is located in town or city halls.

For the first time, the Board of Elections will release results from mail ballots starting 11 p.m. on Election Day, though full results likely will not be available for several days, WPRI reported. In previous years, the Board only released mail-in results after all the ballots were counted, which was often a number of days after Election Day.

“The pandemic has made this a more challenging election,” Gorbea wrote. “But, Rhode Island election officials and IT professionals in my office, the Board of Elections and local boards of canvassers have been working nights, weekends and holidays for the past eight months to make this mission a reality.”

More than 80 million people around the country had participated in early voting as of Oct. 29 —  58.6 percent of the total turnout from the 2016 election — according to the U.S. Elections Project, which tallies data from state sources. 

In certain states, votes already cast have nearly matched total votes in 2016. In Texas, early and mail-in voting account for 95 percent of the total 2016 turnout, according to the U.S. Elections Project.

Madison Mandell ’22, co-founder of Brown Votes, a Swearer Center student group that advocates for voter registration and civic engagement, told The Herald she believes there will be record turnout this election, partially because of enthusiasm among young voters.

“It’s our future that’s on the ballot,” Mandell said. “We need to have a say in shaping that future.”

Mandell said the fact that voters are taking advantage of alternatives to in-person Election Day voting is exciting, especially considering how complicated rules can be in different states. Rhode Island has same-day registration, Mandell added, so students who have not registered can register and vote on Election Day.

Mail-in ballots received by 8 p.m. on Election Day will be counted. The R.I. Department of State recommends that voters allow for three or more mailing days to guarantee that ballots arrive on time. 

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