ACLU Challenges Woonsocket Polling Place Relocation Affecting Low-Income and Non-White Voters

Posted: Oct, 29, 2020

The ACLU of Rhode Island has today filed a complaint letter with the state Board of Elections (BOE) over a decision by the Woonsocket Board of Canvassers (BOC) to move a polling place with a large number of non-white and low-income voters to a location outside the district that will make it harder for some voters to get to on Election Day.

ACLU of RI cooperating attorney Armando Batastini filed the complaint, in the form of a letter to BOE executive director Robert Rapoza, after the ACLU heard from a number of residents this week who had only just learned that the polling location, at Fairmount Heights, had been moved outside the district.

The ACLU letter to the BOE points to at least two other locations within the polling district that could have been used as alternative sites.  The letter further notes:

“It bears emphasis that Fairmount Heights has a high number of non-white and low income voters, so that these populations are particularly effected by moving of the polling place to a less convenient location outside the voting district. It does not appear that the BOC has taken any steps to mitigate the negative effect on persons in Voting District 3 occasioned by the change of polling place.”

The letter also argues that the BOC failed to comply with a state law that requires BOE approval before a polling place is moved outside a voting district, “thereby avoiding scrutiny as to whether alternate sites were available.” Batastini called that failure “inexcusable, as BOC had several months to do so. As a result, by design or not, the BOC’s actions in changing the polling place and providing late notice thereof threatens to disenfranchise the residents of Voting District 3.”

Although the Board of Canvassers sent out a postcard notice about the change, the ACLU’s letter to the BOE points out that the notices were sent to households, and not individual voters, and they were sent after the mail ballot application deadline had passed.

Two weeks ago, a similar dispute arose over a Newport canvassing board decision to relocate a polling place in a district with a large population of people of color. After receiving complaints from the ACLU and dozens of residents, the BOE rejected that relocation.

The BOE has a meeting tomorrow at 11 AM where it is expected this matter will be considered. A copy of the ACLU’s letter sent today can be found here.