PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Republican Party is pushing state leaders to reduce the 20-day in-person early voting window after Democrat Don Carlson suspended his campaign for Congress over the weekend.
R.I. Republican Party Chairman Joe Powers urged Secretary of State Gregg Amore to revisit the process, citing the investigation into fraudulent signatures submitted by Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos’ campaign and Carlson’s decision to drop out following a Target 12 report examining his conduct as a professor at Williams College.
“Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos’ signature scandal highlighted that there is no actual mechanism for removing candidates from the ballot who are found to have submitted fraudulent signatures or any other infractions,” Powers wrote. “Don Carlson will continue to be on the ballot even though he has suspended his campaign.”
Powers said the 20-day early voting period is too long, “especially when the primary and in-person voting for the general election are less than 45 days apart.”
“A five-day in-person early voting period will ensure Rhode Islanders who can’t cast their ballot on Election Day can still take advantage of in-person early voting,” he added.
The R.I. Board of Elections said it is notifying all communities in the 1st District to update the signage at their polling locations to notify voters that Carlson has dropped out of the race.
Nearly 5,000 people in the 1st District had already cast their votes for Congress as of Sunday through either mail ballots or early voting, according to the secretary of state’s online tracker.
When asked whether those who already cast an early ballot for Carlson would be allowed to vote for another candidate, the Board of Elections said that would not be allowed.
Republicans aren’t the only ones demanding a change to the state’s in-person early voting process.
Ocean State Ranked Choice Voting, a nonprofit advocacy group, said Carlson’s departure from the race “highlights the need for ranked-choice voting in Rhode Island.”
“Anyone who voted for him will be furious to learn that their vote is going to waste,” the organization said in a statement. “To prevent a repeat of this situation in the future, we must implement ranked-choice voting in order to ensure that supporters of withdrawn candidates still have a fair say by having their second choices count.”
“No voter should be punished because their favorite candidate dropped out,” the statement continues.
Ranked-choice voting is described as an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. The voting method is already used in both Maine and Alaska.
The organization reiterated that the solution is not to reduce or eliminate access to early voting or voting by mail.
“Both methods of voting are subject to the same rigorous verification processes as voting on Election Day,” the organization said. “They expand access to the ballot, increase voter turnout and strengthen our democracy without compromising the security of elections.”
The special primary for the 1st Congressional District will take place Sept. 5, followed by the special election on Nov. 7.
12 News is hosting a live, televised debate Tuesday at Rhode Island College featuring Democratic primary candidates for the 1st District seat. It will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. on WPRI 12 and live-streamed on WPRI.com.