More than 23,000 Rhode Island voters have already cast their ballots for the presidential election, with the vast majority participating in in-person early voting as of Oct. 16, according to official data from the Rhode Island Department of State.
Though few mail-in ballots have yet been received by the R.I. Board of Elections, Rhode Islanders requested them in record numbers: the Board received 177,000 applications to vote by mail.
In early voting and in requested mail-in ballots, voters registered with the Democratic Party have outpaced their Republican and unaffiliated counterparts, as of Friday, according to data obtained by The Herald from the Secretary of State’s Office.
About 56 percent of early voters were registered Democrats, with 31 percent unaffiliated with a party and 13 percent Republican, according to the data. As of September 2020, about 44 percent of registered voters in Rhode Island were Democrats, 42 percent were unaffiliated and 14 percent were Republicans, according to data from Gorbea’s office.
Of the votes cast already, more than 22,000 came in the form of in-person early voting while another 1,300 were mail-in ballots. Early voting in the state began Oct. 14, and roughly 7,000 early votes have been cast per day, according to official data from R.I. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office.
“This is a really good indication that more people are going to vote in this election than in previous elections,” Madison Mandell ’22, co-founder of Brown Votes told The Herald. Brown Votes is a Swearer Center for Public Service student group that advocates for voter registration and civic engagement.
More than 26 million people around the country had participated in early voting as of Oct. 17, according to the U.S. Elections Project, which tallies data from state sources.
Early voting in Rhode Island will conclude Nov. 2, the day before Election Day. With a valid form of state identification, Rhode Islanders who have not requested a mail-in ballot can cast early votes at their local board of canvassers. This is the first year that the state has offered early voting.
The R.I. Board of Elections has also received 177,000 applications for mail-in ballots, of which 98.3 percent were accepted. Just over 40,000 mail ballots were cast in the 2016 presidential election, according to data on the R.I. Board of Elections website.
The majority of voters who requested mail-in ballots — 62 percent — were Democrats. About 28 percent were unaffiliated with a political party and another 10 percent were registered Republicans.
Thus far, 172,000 ballots have been mailed out to voters. Gorbea announced in September that she would send out applications for mail-in ballots to every active voter in the state — over 700,000 people.
"Making it easy for Rhode Islanders to vote safely and securely from home will ensure that voters aren't forced to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote," Gorbea said in a press release about her decision.
The deadline for requesting a mail-in ballot was Oct. 13. Voters did not need a specific reason to request a mail-in ballot.
The high request rate for mail-in ballots is “a strong indication that people want to vote,” Mandell said. “For a lot of people, that is the safest option.”
She added that the rate “speaks volumes” to how people are willing to vote by mail despite misleading information surrounding it.
Mail-in ballots must be received by the R.I. Board of Elections by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. The R.I. Department of State recommends that voters allow for at least three mailing days to ensure that their ballots arrive on time.
In addition to expanding voting options, the state has made it easier for voters to cast ballots by mail. An agreement reached between Rhode Island and advocacy groups removed the requirement for two witnesses or a notary for mail-in ballots in the state, The Herald previously reported. The agreement was challenged by R.I. Republicans, but was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in August.
The votes cast to date already represent a turnout rate of 2.9 percent, with Election Day 15 days away.
Ben Glickman is the 132nd editor-in-chief and president of The Brown Daily Herald. He previously served as a metro editor and oversaw the College Hill and Fox Point beat, in addition to writing and editing about city politics, COVID-19 and the 2020 election. He is the co-creator of the Bruno Brief, The Herald's first news podcast. In his free time, he is passionate about birds (also tweeting) and eating way too spicy food.