I’m not sure if this legislation will go anywhere, but S0626 in the Rhode Island State Senate would allow for early in person voting in the state.
The bill includes:
- Early in person starting 21 days before the general election, ending the Saturday before Election Day (13 days for primaries)
- Voting would occur “at locations to be determined by each local board and approved by the state board”
- Hours for early voting would be 9-4:30 on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and 12-8 on Thursday and Friday
My three pieces of advice to the Legislature, should they move forward:
- Past work, including my own research, has shown a marked preference for voting on the last Sunday prior to an election. Given that Rhode Island is a small state, and given provisions in the bill that specify that ballots are going to be collected each day by an official from the state board, I’m not sure why they chose to end early voting on that last Saturday.
- The bill is confusing about what technology is going to be used. Part (f) specifies that “the state board shall provide the local 5 boards with the ballots, ballot applications, tabulation equipment, ballot storage boxes, voting 6 booths, instructions as to voting, and other supplies necessary to effectuate the provisions of this 7 section.” But part (e) specifies that the ballots will be filled out and sealed in an envelope; e.g. not processed or tabulated: “The early voter shall be provided with a voting 11 booth identical to the voting booths used on the regularly scheduled election days. Once the early 12 voter has completed the ballot, the early voter shall place the ballot in the ballot envelope and seal 13 the envelope. An official of the local board shall mark the envelope with the appropriate voting 14 precinct designation and return the envelope to the early voter. The early voter shall place the 15 envelope in the ballot box.” The implication is that the early in-person voting technology is actually “in person” absentee. Charles Stewart and I show that this will result in higher residual vote rates, since voters are not given any immediate feedback about any errors on the ballot. Why not have an optical scan machine at each early in-person voting location?
- The legislation makes no statement about how many early in-person voting locations will be required. This can lead to inequities during the early in-person voting period. Some states establish population floors or have other formula in place that help local officials determine how many early in-person locations they are expected to put in place.