Elections board wants governor to move R.I. primary to June

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CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Board of Elections voted Tuesday to ask the state to move the presidential primary to June 2 amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The 6-1 vote was only a request, not a binding decision to move the date. The board wants Gov. Gina Raimondo to issue an executive order changing the statute that originally set the date to April 28.

“Our desire is to have the primary on June 2,” Vice Chairman Steve Erickson said after the meeting.

Jennie Johnson was the only board member to vote against moving the date.

Raimondo said earlier Tuesday she did not support moving the date, but her press secretary Josh Block said Tuesday evening the governor is now “open to the idea.”

“As we’ve seen, this is a quickly evolving situation,” Block said. “The Rhode Island primary is still more than a month away, and the Governor’s top priority is protecting the immediate public health and safety of Rhode Islanders. She is open to the idea of moving the election date and will rely on guidance from public health and election officials to inform that decision.”

The vote came after a lengthy discussion about the feasibility of a predominantly mail-ballot election, which is what Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea proposed in order to avoid spreading the virus at the polls.

Some Board of Elections staffers were concerned about the effect of a large influx of mail ballot applications, which would need to processed before sending out the actual mail ballots.

Erickson said he was also concerned about any proposal that would remove the safeguards for mail ballot certification in order to speed up the process. He said moving the date would allow more time for staff to prepare for an outsize amount of mail ballots.

There would still need to be some polling locations open, even with a mostly mail ballot election, so that people with disabilities who need assistance voting could do so.

Gorbea said she was not in favor of the June 2 date because it would “result in a shortened calendar to prepare for the September primary and November election.”

“However, should the governor move forward with the board’s recommendation, my office will work with the board and our local elections officials to ensure that every eligible Rhode Islander can safely cast a ballot in this important election,” Gorbea said in a statement.

“I was pleased to see the RI Board of Elections support my recommendation that Rhode Island hold a predominantly mail ballot Presidential Preference Primary (PPP) so that we can ensure a safe and secure election during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gorbea said. “This measure protects the health and safety of voters and election workers. “

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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