Last month, three members of Brown Votes — a nonpartisan University student initiative focused on increasing voter participation on campus — testified at the Rhode Island State House in support of House Joint Resolution 5770. The bill, if passed, would put forth a ballot question to amend the state constitution to allow same-day voter registration for statewide elections, according to John Bellaire ’25, a civic engagement fellow for Brown Votes who testified at the hearing.
Currently, in Rhode Island, same-day voter registration is only offered for federal elections, whereas statewide elections require voters to register at least 30 days in advance, said Logan Tullai ’25, the chair of Brown Votes’ Advocacy Committee. If the ballot question passed, it would allow voters to “register up to and including Election Day,” said Julian Cronin ’25, another member of the Advocacy Committee who also testified in favor of the bill.
The Advocacy Committee specifically seeks to “expand access to voting and overcome barriers … to participation,” Tullai said. “That takes the form of meeting with stakeholders and the State House, and then working with on-campus partners … to expand access to civic engagement.”
Cronin told The Herald that on the day of the testimony, each member got around three minutes to make their arguments. “We argued that all citizens of Rhode Island — whether they just moved here, whether they just registered, whether they just became citizens — all should have an equal right to vote, and there shouldn’t be restrictions,” he said.
“Sometimes, people aren’t aware of an election until it’s upcoming, or people move — and they deserve” to be eligible to vote in that election, Cronin added.
In his testimony, Bellaire explained that some students may face “restrictive voting laws in their home states” which make them ineligible to vote absentee. Bellaire added that if “Rhode Island had same-day voter registration, these students could change their registration in an instant … which would allow (them) to still have their voices heard.”
Bellaire said that his experience testifying was “interesting and eye-opening in terms of how the political process really works.” He recalled that the group of Brown Votes students watched as the representatives conversed with one another and debated several pieces of legislation before the members were called to testify on HR 5770.
After giving his prepared testimony, Bellaire then answered a series of questions from a representative, an experience he said was “pretty cool.”
Cronin recalled that the students were “really confident that what we were doing was for the right cause and we all came prepared with evidence and stories,” he said.
He added that the experience of testifying taught him that “state government can be slow, like any other legislative process, but that it can be one of the most accessible forms of government.”
According to Cronin, Tullai and Bellaire, HR 5770 aligns with the organization’s core mission. “Brown Votes exists to increase voter access and voter turnout,” Cronin said. “So we believe that it’s responsible and in line with our club’s goals to advocate for (a) nonpartisan, pro-voter agenda.”
The bill “is not designed to advantage anyone other than the voters,” he added. Many Brown students “don’t have access to the ballot box in the state they’re from, so being able to participate here (in Rhode Island) is important.”
Beyond advocacy for HR 5770, Brown Votes is working on other initiatives to expand voter registration and engagement on campus.
According to Bellaire, the organization is working on creating a voter registration database of Brown students in order to “really target our outreach efforts and provide tailored information” to students based on their home states and cities.
Tullai said that the organization is also considering developing state-by-state absentee voting guides to help ease the process of requesting and mailing in absentee ballots from College Hill.