RI Board of Elections flooded with 85K mail ballot requests and counting

West Bay

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Board of Elections received 2,641 mail-in ballots for the state’s primary election in 2012 and 8,070 for the 2016 primary.

Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency says it’s working to process 85,000 applications for mail-in ballots, with more expected to arrive before the May 19 deadline.

“My first thought is that this is great, the system is working,” Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said Tuesday. “We want people to vote by mail for the June 2 primary; it will lower the chances of anyone getting infected, getting sick.”

Gorbea said the state received $3 million for COVID-19-related election expenses, which may be used to help streamline the review process.

“We are looking to see where we have to invest that,” R.I. Board of Elections Vice Chair Steve Erickson said. “We are using part of that now for the mail ballot application postage but I foresee some kind of new equipment over at the BOE that helps them manage the influx of mail ballots.”

With such a dramatic increase in the number of applications, Erickson said the state may need more people to count the ballots as well as a change in procedures.

“The Board of Canvassers, because they have to do some work on each one of those applications and send out the mail ballots, that is something we are keeping an eye on because they are getting pretty pressed by the numbers,” he added.

Erickson also said Gorbea offered to provide more staffing.

“In our conversations with both the local boards and Board of Elections, they have indicated that they will need both new equipment and staff,” Gorbea said.

While the general election is still a ways away and it’s too soon to tell what the situation will look like in the fall, Gorbea said they’re using the primary as a test run.

“That’s one of the many reasons I want to encourage people to vote, is to help us test this system in case we have to do a predominantly mail ballot primary either in September or general election in November,” she explained.

The state says in-person voting will still be offered for those who miss the mail ballot deadline but locations will be limited. Visit the Secretary of State’s website to find your polling place.

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