Rhode Island sets new all-time record for voter turnout

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island has set a new record for voter turnout, exceeding the previous all-time high in 2008, according to election officials.

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office reported 482,082 ballots had been cast as of 6:50 p.m., surpassing the previous all-time record from 2008 when 475,428 Rhode Islanders voted in the year of Barack Obama’s first landslide victory.

The 2020 robust turnout, fueled largely by historic levels of early voting and mail-in ballots, also easily exceeded the 469,589 votes cast in 2016.

R.I. Board of Elections executive director Robert Rapoza on Monday predicted Rhode Island turnout could hit 72%, equaling about 583,000 votes.

Rhode Island voter turnout as a percentage — a measure of votes as a share of all registered voters — has trended downward in recent decades. Since 1972, it peaked at 79% when Republican George H.W. Bush ran against Massachusetts Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988. (Bush became president, but lost in Rhode Island with 44% of the vote compared to 55% for Dukakis.)

The number of votes has since remained relatively stable, but overall registered voters has steadily increased each year during that time. 12 News politics analyst Joe Fleming says that is in part because of the 1993 motor voter law, which has led to increases in the voter rolls.

As of 6:50 p.m., local turnout varied across the state, ranging from a low of 38% in Woonsocket and a high of 75% in Jamestown.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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