PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With people being encouraged to vote by mail amid the COVID-19 pandemic, state officials are taking steps to ensure everyone is able to cast a ballot in the upcoming general election.
Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea announced Friday that all active registered voters in the state will soon be sent a mail ballot application.
“Making it easy for Rhode Islanders to vote safely and securely from home will ensure that voters aren’t forced to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote,” Gorbea said in a statement.
Gorbea said applications for the November 3 election will begin arriving in mailboxes this weekend and continue through next week to make sure voters have plenty of time to return them and receive their mail ballots. Voters can track the status of their mail ballot application and the ballot itself on vote.ri.gov.
Voters are considered “active” if they’re registered and have not had a piece of official elections mail returned as undeliverable, according to Gorbea’s office.
More Information: RI Secretary of State’s Office | RI Board of Elections
With a record number of mail ballot applications expected, Gorbea also announced that Gov. Gina Raimondo has authorized the Rhode Island National Guard to assist the Board of Elections with processing mail ballot applications. Gorbea assured the National Guard’s role will be “purely clerical,” saying they won’t be handling any actual mail ballots.
More than 43,000 mail ballots were requested in advance of this week’s primary elections and more than 38,000 were returned, leading to a two-day delay in finalizing the results.
As with the primaries, secure drop boxes will be placed in every community for any ballots that didn’t get mailed in time, and voters will still have the option to vote in person, though locations will again be limited compared to previous years.
The deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 3 election is Sunday, Oct. 4, and the deadline to submit a mail ballot application is Tuesday, Oct. 13. The early in-person voting period begins the following day.
Additionally, Gorbea announced that voters can call 211 with any election-related questions. The service is available 24/7 and in more than 200 languages, she said.
In a statement to 12 News, RI Republican Party Chair Sue Cienki said Gorbea is “wasting taxpayer dollars” by sending out the applications without first cleaning out the state’s voter rolls, which she said would take years. She was also critical of mail ballots in general, claiming thousands were rejected or unaccounted for during the state primaries.
“The best way to ensure your vote counts is to vote in person either on Nov 3rd or early voting at your town hall,” Cienki wrote. “Any issue with your vote can be immediately corrected.”
On Friday, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin sent out a notice that his office would be distributing mail ballot applications to all registered voters who have not already submitted one.
“We are not mailing applications to voters who have already applied, so there is no need to worry if you do not receive one in the mail this time,” Galvin stated.
Voters are encouraged to apply early to ensure timely delivery of ballots, Galvin said, adding that the U.S. Postal Service advises mailing them no later than Tuesday, Oct. 20.
Ballots are expected to start being mailed by the first week of October, according to Galvin. Voters can review the status of their ballot or application on TrackMyBallotMA.com.
To be counted, ballots not received by Election Day must arrive no later than Nov. 6 and be postmarked by Nov. 3.
Expanded in-person voting will also be available from Oct. 17-30, and four days of weekend voting will be held in every community during that period.