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
- 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
- Jan, 27, 2017: ACLU Report Examines Voting Problems in November Election
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.
- Plaintiffs' Objection to Motion to Dismiss
- Denial of Motion to Dismiss
- Judge's Ruling
- First Circuit Appeals Court Decision
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 The provisions were repealed, and attorneys’ fees were awarded.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
Voting Rights Legislation
Automatic Voter Registration & Early Voting PASSED (AVR)
- Category: 2017 Voting Rights
The Secretary of State's Office has submitted two bills that would make voting and registering for accessible for all Rhode Islanders.
The Early Voting bill 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 weekends and at least some late evenings.
Additionally, legislation for Automatic Voter Registration would allow individuals who go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain or renew a driver's license document to easily register to vote if they certify that they are eligible to do so. The passage of this important legislation is another important step in making the voter registration process easier and more accessible. At the end of May, an amended version of AVR (H-5702A) was unanimously passed by the House and at the end of June the Senate also passed this legislation. After being signed by the Governor in July, RI has become the ninth state to pass AVR following states like Oregon and Illinois. AVR is expected to register thousands of eligible voters once the software is implemented at the DMV.
To read the ACLU's testimony on these bills and others regarding elections, click here.
Prison Gerrymandering (H 5309, S 344)
- Category: 2017 Voting Rights
Legislation, sponsored by Rep. Anastasia Williams and Sen. Harold Metts, seeking to end the practice of prison-based gerrymandering in Rhode Island has once again been brought forward. 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 there, including individuals awaiting trial or serving misdemeanor sentences who retain the right to vote, but are treated for voting purposes as residents of the community from where they came. 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 legislation, as the ACLU and the Prison Policy Initative testified, would rectify this disparity and require all prisoners to be counted, for voting purposes only, at their last known address. Similar legislation passed the Senate last year, but failed to move in the House. No further action was taken on this legislation prior to the June recess.
Presidential Tax Returns (H 5400)
- Category: 2017 Voting Rights
This legislation, which would require Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates to disclose their five most recent federal tax returns in order to qualify for the ballot, is a direct response to the most recent Presidential election and then-candidate Donald Trump's refusal to release his tax records. While the ACLU understands why disclosing this information would be useful, that should not be a standard for determining who gets to run for President or Vice-President – or state legislator or any other office.
As detailed in our testimony, the ACLU of RI has long objected to legislative efforts to impose additional qualifications, beyond those contained in the Constitution, 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. This legislation sets a troubling precedent. 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. No further action was taken on this legislation after it was heard.