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Gorbea talks online voter registration law

R.I. Secretary of State hopes to make registration accessible for residents, especially young adults

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea joined the Brown Democrats Tuesday for a forum on the new Rhode Island legislation that allows voters to register to vote or update their information online. Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the bill March 30, according to a press release. As a result of the new law, Rhode Island has joined 31 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing voters to register online.

This legislation follows a recommendation made by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration in January 2014 to move toward a “modernization of the registration process through continued expansion of online voter registration and expanded state collaboration in improving the accuracy of voter lists,” according to the commission’s website.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, Rep. Aaron Regunberg ’12, D-Providence, and Gorbea, states, “the Secretary of State shall establish, maintain and administer a portal for electronic voter registration.” The legislation would also require that any “state agency, quasi-public agency or municipality” give previously recorded voter information to the state department so that it can verify voters’ identity or allow courts to identify an individual. In addition, this information could be shared across state governments for the same purposes.

“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,” Regunberg said in a press release.

During the forum hosted by the Brown Democrats, Gorbea talked about the obstacles that voters face when registering. She discussed how day-to-day living often makes it difficult for citizens to vote, and it is therefore the government’s duty to make voting as easy as possible. She gave various examples of the current system’s inability to track changes in voter information, like new home addresses after a move.

Jeffrey Salvadore ’17, president of Brown Democrats, echoed this sentiment. “Brown students have busy lives, so the easier we can make it to vote, the more people we can involve,” he said.  Salvadore added that he would expect an increase in voting among demographics that are underrepresented in elections, such as young people, people of lower incomes and minorities, once online voter registration becomes available.

But some voters may have a hard time registering online because they need a physical signature recorded with a government agency. The state is “not quite there yet” with electronic signatures, Gorbea said.

Though the legislation was passed unanimously in the House and with little opposition in the Senate, some legislators had concerns about voter fraud and the security of the database that would hold voter information, Gorbea said. But “interestingly enough, online registration is more secure than paper registration,” she said, adding that there were few to no cases of voter fraud in other states that had implemented online voter registration.

The website should be established in time for voters to register or update their information before the presidential election in November, Gorbea said.


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