PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — President Donald Trump on Thursday night praised Rhode Island’s current mail ballot laws — including the deadline for ballots to arrive by election night — as voting rights groups ask Gov. Gina Raimondo to extend that deadline.
Trump made the comments while calling into the Sean Hannity show on Fox News, apparently while waiting on the results of a COVID-19 test that turned out to be positive later Thursday night.
After discussing his coronavirus test, Trump and Hannity moved on to the the issue of mail ballots and Trump’s oft-repeated claims of the potential for fraud.
“The good news is we just got a very good decision in Rhode Island, great decision, we have some great decisions coming down,” Trump told the Fox host. “You have to have the votes in by Nov. 3, you have to have it signed, you have to have it certified. They have to guarantee the certification.”
It was not immediately clear to what “decision” Trump was referring. The Supreme Court in August ruled against the Republican Party, making it easier to vote by mail in Rhode Island by removing the requirement that two witnesses or a notary sign a mail ballot.
But his mention of voting by Nov. 3 is a reference to a state statute that requires mail ballots arrive by 8 p.m. on Election Day, a contrast with some other states that allow ballots to be counted if they arrive after the election but were postmarked by Election Day. (Massachusetts is allowing this for the November election only this year, counting ballots that arrive by Nov. 6 as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3.)
A list of 20 groups including the ACLU, Common Cause Rhode Island and the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island have asked Gov. Gina Raimondo to sign an executive order waiving that law.
The groups wrote a letter to Raimondo last week asking for the change, citing the large volume of mail ballots expected to be sent in this year due to the pandemic.
“By counting only ballots that arrive by mail the day after Election Day, or that are clearly
postmarked by that day, it ensures that no impermissible late voting occurred,” the letter said. “As the Postmaster of Rhode Island testified before the Board of Elections earlier this year, no mail is
delivered the same day it is sent.”
Raimondo would not yet commit one way or another during an interview with 12 News on Thursday.
“I’m looking at it,” Raimondo said. “In concept I think it’s a really good idea. I’m a believer in we want to break down barriers to vote and everybody ought to vote. Here’s the challenge. The Post Office doesn’t postmark ballots, so in order for this to happen we’d have to get the federal Post Office to agree to postmark the ballots.” (The U.S. Postal Service website says it is their policy to postmark all election mail, though news reports indicate ballots have been rejected in the past for lacking a postmark.)
Trump’s praise was also aimed at Rhode Island’s requirement that signatures on a mail ballot be checked against a voter’s registration card to verify their identity. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has pointed to the signature verification as a key safeguard in response to the fraud concerns raised by Republicans in the lawsuit over the witness rules.
“We have taken precautions at every step of the way,” Gorbea said during an interview for 12 on 12: Atypical Election, a digital original released on WPRI.com this week. “There’s two sets of eyes, different sets of eyes looking at each mail ballot to be sure it is being voted on by the right person.”
Registered voters must request a mail ballot by Oct. 13 in Rhode Island. Elections officials recommend mailing it a week before the election or dropping it off in person to ensure it arrives by the current deadline.
Voters can also vote early at their city or town hall, or in person at the polls on Election Day.