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ACLU and Common Cause Seek to Prevent Disqualification of Eligible Voters on November 4th

Posted: October 01, 2008|Category: Voting Rights

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Calling it “essential” to ensure that the legitimate votes of potentially thousands of voters do not get disqualified on November 4th, the Rhode Island ACLU and Common Cause/RI have urged local Boards of Canvassers (BOC) to take steps to notify individually all voters in their communities of their polling location. The request was made in a letter sent by the two groups to all BOCs in the state.

A person who goes to an incorrect polling place has the right to cast a provisional ballot. However, in their letter, the two public interest organizations noted that, under current state Board of Elections’ regulations, qualified voters who cast such a ballot in their city or town will have only their votes for federal offices counted. Their votes on statewide elections, statewide referenda, and city or town-wide elections and referenda are all thrown out, even when there is no question about their qualifications and residence in the municipality where the ballot was cast.

As a result of this policy, the letter noted, potentially thousands of voters who go to the wrong polling place in their community in November will find most of their votes disqualified, with potentially significant consequences. During the most recent primary elections, for example, a number of hotly-contested local races were decided by just a few votes.

The ACLU/Common Cause letter further noted that polling location changes are not at all uncommon. For instance, municipalities closed more than 80 polling places between the 2004 and 2008 Presidential primaries. The groups acknowledged that the state and municipalities take various steps to try to make voters aware of polling place locations – such as through newspaper advertisements and Web site programs – but “particularly for the poor and elderly, those efforts are likely to be insufficient.” Those voters are also the ones least likely, due to time or transportation difficulties, to be able to get to their correct polling place after they show up at the wrong one, stated the letter.

Noting that a record turnout is expected in November, the letter argued that “the reality is that thousands of residents” may not have voted since the last Presidential election four years ago, “and they will not be aware of any polling changes that have taken place since that time.” The groups urged the BOCs to “take steps to individually notify voters of their polling place location by sending out postcards with this information before the upcoming election. To the extent this is deemed too costly or otherwise burdensome, we would encourage at a minimum that you send notices to those voters whose polling location has changed since the 2004 elections.”

Common Cause/RI executive director Christine Lopes said today: “Our goal is to try and ensure that when voters go to the polls on Election Day, their votes count. Notifying voters that a polling place has changed since the last Presidential election is a small step towards protecting this fundamental right.”

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