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RI House OKs bill to hold primary elections 2 weeks earlier

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A proposal seeking to move Rhode Island’s primary election up by two weeks is one step closer to becoming law.

The House of Representatives passed the bill by a 73-0 vote on Thursday. If it’s approved by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo, the primary would be held on the eighth Tuesday before the general election, bringing Rhode Island into compliance with federal law.

“Federal law requires that all men and women in uniform and overseas voters are able to get their ballots at least 45 days before the general election and because our date was so far in September, the current date that we have right now in the law, we needed to change it,” Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea explained.

PDF: Read the bill in full »

Gorbea appeared on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers last week to discuss the plan. She said she was in favor of holding the primary in August but lawmakers on Smith Hill were hesitant to do so.

Gorbea considers the bill to be a compromise while others are calling it a cop-out.

Common Cause Rhode Island Executive Director John Marion sent a statement to Eyewitness News saying he believes the move would create problems for Rhode Island communities.

“While this bill puts us in compliance with federal law by moving the primary earlier, it will add costs for cities and towns who will have to pay employees extra to prepare over the Labor Day weekend, and will continue to make life complicated for school districts in communities where the schools are used as polling places, and are often closed on election days.”

Eyewitness News political analyst Joe Fleming says an earlier primary likely won’t impact voter turnout.

“A lot of states have their primaries a lot earlier. Some have them I think even in June and July,” he said.

“I think it’s going to have more of an impact on the candidates themselves, the nominees,” Fleming added. “It’s going to give them more time to prepare for the general election, more time to focus on the Republican and Democrat opponent.”

If the bill becomes law, it will take effect in January 2020.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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