Voting Rights Issues the ACLU of Rhode Island is Involved With - Court Cases, Legislation, News

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Voting Rights

In a democratic society, the right to vote is an essential aspect of liberty, and the ACLU of Rhode Island has been vigilant in challenging government efforts to limit or impede the exercise of that right. Additionally, the ACLU has fought attempts to restrict the ability of people to run for office, as it not only directly impairs the rights of candidates, but also impacts the rights of voters to make their choices known.

Learn more about protecting your right to vote when you head to the polls.

 

Voting Rights in the News

  • Oct, 09, 2017: Statement on Alleged “Loophole” in Voter ID Rules
  • Jul, 07, 2017: Statement in Response to the Request from the “President’s Commission on Election Integrity”
  • Feb, 21, 2017: ACLU Seeks Dismissal of Charges Under New Narragansett Student Housing Ordinance

View All Voting Rights Related News Releases »

Voting Rights Court Cases

2014: Davidson v. City of Cranston
Category: Voting Rights    

This is a federal lawsuit challenging the redistricting plan adopted by the City of Cranston in 2012 for its City Counciland School Committee.  The lawsuit charges that the redistricting plan violates the one person, one vote principle of the U.S. Constitution by counting incarcerated people in their prison location as if they were all residents of Cranston. Because those incarcerated were counted as Cranston residents, three voters in the prison's district have as much voting power as four voters in every other city district.

In May 2016, a federal judge agreed with the ACLU and ordered the City of Cranston to redraw their voting lines within 30 days. In September 2016, a federal appeals court disagreed.

RELATED: The ACLU's Washington Legislative Office submitted comments to the Census Bureau on the 2020 Census Residence Rule supporting the counting of incarcerated people at their home address. The comments cite our lawsuit here in Rhode Island as well the ACLU's work in other states. 

Supporting Documents
2009: Montiero v. City of East Providence
Category: Due Process    Rights of Candidates    

Federal lawsuit challenging City Charter provisions that impose increased signature-gathering burdens, above and beyond what state law requires, on candidates who wish to run for local office. The provisions were repealed, and attorneys’ fees were awarded.

Cooperating Attorney: Angel Taveras

Supporting Documents

Voting Rights Legislation

Write-in Candidates (H 7729, S 2757)
Category: 2018    Voting Rights    

Voters should have the right to have their votes tallied, even if it is for a losing cause. Legislation (H-7729, S-2757) under consideration would see voters less able to cast the ballot for whomever they wish, by eliminating the counting of write-in votes for persons who have not filed in advance a "declaration of intent." While many write-in the votes may seem silly, they are nonetheless a valid exercise of a person's individual right to vote. The ACLU testified before the House and Senate Judiciary commitees in opposition to this legislation. The House approved this legislation in June.

Board of Elections Procedures (H 7438, S 2088)
Category: 2018    Voting Rights    

The ACLU of Rhode Island testified in support of legislation by Rep. Joseph Shekarchi (7438) and Sen. Stephen Archambault (2088) to eliminate the exemption of the RI State Board of Elections from the rule-making provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). As it currently stands, the Board can adopt regulations affecting the voting process without having to go through a public notice or hearing process. 

The importance of the APA cannot be overstated. People have a right to know the laws and regulations they are supposed to abide, and to have input into them. The Board of Elections is an important agency that sets the rules for implementing the democratic process of voting.

Presidential Tax Returns (S 2612A, H 7877)
Category: 2018    Voting Rights    

This legislation and its companion bill are a direct response to the most recent Presidential election and then-candidate Donald Trump's refusal to release his tax records. By requiring Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates to disclose their five most recent federal tax returns in order to qualify for the ballot, this legislation would set a dangerous precedent and impose qualifications exceeding those required by the Constitution on candidates to qualify for the ballot.

The ACLU of RI has long objected to legislative efforts to impose additional qualifications on candidates to qualify for the ballot (such as pending legislation from the Governor barring candidates who owe fines to the Board of Elections from running), and it is especially problematic for states to impose special qualifications in the context of federal campaigns. Just as the legislature should refrain from setting unnecessary barriers in the way for people to vote, it should not add unnecessary obstacles to get on the ballot. The Senate approved an amended version of this legislation in June. Read the ACLU's full comments here
 

Prison-Based Gerrymandering (H 7530, S 2267)
Category: 2018    Voting Rights    

When it comes to drawing new voting districts, any individuals incarcerated at the ACI in Cranston on the day the Census worker comes through are recorded as living on Howard Avenue at the prison, including individuals awaiting trial or serving misdemeanor sentences who are still allowed to vote. Under state law, individuals who vote from the ACI must vote using their home addresses, but they are counted for redistricting purposes as if they live - and can vote - from the prison. As a result, Cranston is overrepresented in the General Assembly, while the districts from where the prisoners hail are underrepresented. Under the current plan, approximately 15% of House District 20 is comprised of voters who cannot vote in Cranston.

The ACLU supports legislation sponsored by Rep. Anastasia Williams (H 7530), and companion legislation sponsored by Sen. Harold Metts (S 2267) to rectify this disparity and require all prisoners to be counted, for voting purposes only, at their last known address. The Prison Policy Initiative joined us in support of this legislation. Versions of this legislation have passed the Senate multiple times in recent years; to date, the bill has never moved in the House.

Early Voting (H 7501, S 2419)
Category: 2018    Voting Rights    

H-7501 and S-2419 would establish a process for in-person early voting in Rhode Island. Early voting is a key way of increasing the ability of the public to exercise the franchise. The long lines that awaited some voters at polling places in the last general election – and many other past elections – confirm the utility of this approach, which a majority of states have already adopted in one form of another. The ACLU particularly applauds the fact that this bill, in order to best promote its goal, contains provisions for early voting periods that include some weekend days. 

Voter Identification Repeal (H 7342, S 2448)
Category: 2018    Voting Rights    

This bill will repeal the existing statute that requires photo identification be presented when voting.  This barrier to voting serves to disenfranchise the poor, the elderly, racial minorities and other vulnerable groups that are least likely to have identification or the documents necessary to obtain ID. The ACLU testified before the House and Senate Judiciary committees in support of bill H 7342, sponsored by Rep. Blazejewski, and bill S 2448, sponsored by Sen. Goldin.  For a factsheet on why RI's voter ID law should be repealed, click here.