Voter rolls are being made more accurate

Voter rolls are being made more accurate

In a letter to the editor on Jan. 31, Rodney Barber of Pawtucket asked if I believe there is a problem with the integrity of our elections in Rhode Island. My answer quite simply, is no. Election systems in Rhode Island are secure and accurate. However, there’s certainly room for improvement.

Let’s start with Rhode Island’s voter rolls. There have long been concerns that the state’s database of registered voters is bloated. This is not a problem that is unique to Rhode Island. Voters move, some from state to state, or sadly, they pass away. Our goal is to identify these voters as quickly as possible and make it easier for cities and towns to remove these voters in a manner that complies with very specific state and federal laws established to protect voter rights.

This is why I made it a priority to join ERIC (Electronic Voter Registration Center), the multi-state partnership that compares voting lists and other federal records like the Social Security Death Master list. Already ERIC is helping us identify voters who may have moved out of state without notifying their former town or city hall. Since taking office in 2015, we have worked with cities and towns to legally remove over 55,000 voters from the state’s voter rolls, including nearly 17,000 deceased voters. We will continue to work with local boards of canvassers to identify those voters who may have moved or should no longer be on Rhode Island’s voter list.

Another way to clean up the voter rolls is to make it easier for voters themselves to update their own voter registration information. That’s why I also worked to pass and implement online voter registration. Now eligible Rhode Islanders can securely register or update their voter registration information online.

These concrete actions are using legal means to clean up our voter rolls while ensuring we do not deprive any eligible Rhode Islander from their sacred right to vote. However, let me correct a common misconception when discussing voter lists. While I urge anyone who moves to update their voter record, it is not illegal or fraudulent for a voter to appear on multiple voter rolls. Voter fraud happens only when someone votes more than once or someone votes under another’s identity. National studies by Republican, Democratic and independent researchers have shown repeatedly those instances of voter fraud are very rare.

Mr. Barber also referenced difficulties with election day operations in Pawtucket and I share his concerns. No voter should ever have to wait hours to exercise their democratic right to vote or be dissuaded by voting due to a long wait time. That’s why I am convening a task force consisting of representatives from the State Board of Elections and local elections officials responsible for election day operations, including those from Pawtucket. The task force will identify ways to improve poll worker training, increase efficiency at the polls, and expedite scanning of ballots without sacrificing any of the important security measures installed in the new voting machines.

I encourage Mr. Barber to be part of these conversations and share his recommendations for improving our elections systems. It is imperative that we safeguard the right of all eligible Rhode Islanders to vote. This single act of casting a ballot is fundamental to our democracy and critically important to making government accountable to the people it serves. Let’s protect that right and continue to make Rhode Island elections fair, fast, and accurate.

Nellie M. Gorbea

R.I. Secretary of State