Last month, the Rhode Island Voting Access Coalition held a rally for its Let RI Vote for Same-Day Voter Registration campaign. Over 33 community groups and several state officials were in attendance, including Secretary of State Gregg Amore (D), Sen. Alana DiMario (D-North Kingstown, Narragansett, New Shoreham) and Rep. Karen Alzate (D-Pawtucket, Central Falls), according to a press release from Common Cause Rhode Island.
The campaign, led by Common Cause, is a part of broader efforts to increase voting access in Rhode Island. The state is one of 15 with a voter registration policy requiring residents to register to vote 30 days before an election. In R.I. same-day voter registration is only available for presidential elections.
According to John Marion, executive director of Common Cause, Rhode Island is also one of few states to codify their registration deadline in the state constitution.
“We see it as one of the last remaining large, structural barriers to increased (voter) participation,” Marion said. “We’re trying to position this as the most important democracy issue in (the state) right now.”
The campaign “is trying to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would allow for same-day voter registration,” he added.
The Voting Access Coalition is also led by a steering committee that includes community groups like Service Employees International Union and Planned Parenthood.
In their own fight for reproductive health, the organization recognizes that their goals can only be achieved “with the complete participation of everyone,” said Vimala Phongsavanh, a senior director of external affairs at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, in an interview with The Herald.
According to Alex Moore, political director of SEIU District 1199 New England, barriers to voting disproportionately affect renters and people experiencing housing instability, which tend to be younger, of color and from low-income backgrounds.
“The neighborhood I grew up in was largely (Laotian), and a lot of folks were getting their citizenship but not registering to vote,” Phongsavanh said. “Refugee communities like mine are harder (to register in) because most of them don’t speak English and … people don’t think it’s worth the investment” to register, as it’s a very small community.”
University organizations like Brown Votes have also highlighted the importance of same-day voter registration, specifically for students. Brown Votes member Logan Tullai ’25 said that “the 30-day restriction is very narrow, especially for first-year students arriving on campus” in an interview with The Herald.
“It’s also important for US citizens living abroad who are now going to school in Rhode Island … as well as the veteran population on campus” to have access to same-day voter registration, Tullai added. Brown Votes testified at the Rhode Island State House last spring for an earlier iteration of the campaign, The Herald previously reported.
According to a poll commissioned by partners of the Let RI Vote campaign, 61% of Rhode Islanders support same-day voter registration. A study by the University of Massachusetts Amherst also found that Black and Latinx voter turnout increased by 2-17 percentage points in states with same-day registration.
Although there is no organized opposition to the campaign at the moment, the Republican caucus feels “that this is a completely unnecessary move,” said House Minority Leader Michael Chippendale (R-Coventry, Foster, Glocester) in an interview with The Herald.
Chippendale added that because information about elections and voter registration is available well in advance, prospective voters should also be prepared and informed before election day. “All rights come with responsibilities,” he said.
But Phongsavanh believes that navigating the voting process can be difficult given different cultural backgrounds. When she ran for Woonsocket’s school committee in 2009, she and her father managed to register over 100 new voters, she shared. “People were excited (to vote), but this voting thing was new to them … and (some people) couldn’t because of this deadline we had,” she explained.
For the time being, addressing the amendment is not a priority for the Republican caucus. “Same-day voter registration is not even on our map,” said Chippendale. “We will not be discussing it until the day the vote comes.”
According to Marion, there’s still a long road ahead of the campaign. Once the change is introduced, the coalition will prepare for a hearing and lobby with legislative committees. If all goes according to plan, the constitutional amendment will appear on the ballot come November.
“Everybody’s optimistic that their bill is going to pass in January,” said Marion. “It’s when you get to June that you really find out what the obstacles are.”
Megan is a Senior Staff Writer covering community and activism in Providence. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she spends her free time drinking coffee and wishing she was Meg Ryan in a Nora Ephron movie.