Voting Rights Issues the ACLU of Rhode Island is Involved With - Court Cases, Legislation, News

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Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years

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Voting Rights

In a democratic society, the right to vote is an essential aspect of liberty, and the ACLU of Rhode Island has been vigilant in challenging government efforts to limit or impede the exercise of that right. Additionally, the ACLU has fought attempts to restrict the ability of people to run for office, as it not only directly impairs the rights of candidates, but also impacts the rights of voters to make their choices known.

Learn more about protecting your right to vote when you head to the polls.

 

Voting Rights in the News

  • Oct, 09, 2017: Statement on Alleged “Loophole” in Voter ID Rules
  • Jul, 07, 2017: Statement in Response to the Request from the “President’s Commission on Election Integrity”
  • Feb, 21, 2017: ACLU Seeks Dismissal of Charges Under New Narragansett Student Housing Ordinance

View All Voting Rights Related News Releases »

Voting Rights Court Cases

2014: Davidson v. City of Cranston
Category: Voting Rights    

This is a federal lawsuit challenging the redistricting plan adopted by the City of Cranston in 2012 for its City Counciland School Committee.  The lawsuit charges that the redistricting plan violates the one person, one vote principle of the U.S. Constitution by counting incarcerated people in their prison location as if they were all residents of Cranston. Because those incarcerated were counted as Cranston residents, three voters in the prison's district have as much voting power as four voters in every other city district.

In May 2016, a federal judge agreed with the ACLU and ordered the City of Cranston to redraw their voting lines within 30 days. In September 2016, a federal appeals court disagreed.

RELATED: The ACLU's Washington Legislative Office submitted comments to the Census Bureau on the 2020 Census Residence Rule supporting the counting of incarcerated people at their home address. The comments cite our lawsuit here in Rhode Island as well the ACLU's work in other states. 

Supporting Documents
2009: Montiero v. City of East Providence
Category: Due Process    Rights of Candidates    

Federal lawsuit challenging City Charter provisions that impose increased signature-gathering burdens, above and beyond what state law requires, on candidates who wish to run for local office. The provisions were repealed, and attorneys’ fees were awarded.

Cooperating Attorney: Angel Taveras

Supporting Documents

Voting Rights Legislation

Write-in Candidates (H 7729, S 2757) Passed House; Died in Senate
Category: 2018    Voting Rights    

Voters should have the right to have their votes tallied, even if it is for a losing cause. Legislation (H 7729, S 2757) introduced this year would have imposed restrictions on that right, by eliminating the counting of write-in votes for persons who have not filed in advance a "declaration of intent." While many write-in the votes may seem useless, the ACLU testified, they are nonetheless a valid exercise of a person's individual right to vote. The House disagreed and passed this legislation in June, but the Senate never held a vote.

Presidential Tax Returns (H 7877, S 2612A) Passed Senate; Died in House
Category: 2018    Voting Rights    

The ACLU lobbied against legislation (H 7877, S 2612A) introduced in direct response to the most recent Presidential election and then-candidate Donald Trump's refusal to release his tax records. By requiring Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates to disclose their five most recent federal tax returns in order to qualify for the ballot, the ACLU testified, this legislation set a dangerous precedent. The ACLU of RI has long objected to legislative efforts to impose additional qualifications on candidates to qualify for the ballot, and it is especially problematic for states to do so in the context of federal campaigns. Just as the legislature should refrain from setting unnecessary barriers in the way for people to vote, it should not add unnecessary obstacles to get on the ballot. The Senate approved this legislation in June, but it died in the House.

Prison-Based Gerrymandering (H 7530, S 2267) DIED
Category: 2018    Voting Rights    

When it comes to drawing new voting districts, any individuals incarcerated at the ACI in Cranston on the day the Census worker comes through are recorded as living on Howard Avenue at the prison, including individuals awaiting trial or serving misdemeanor sentences who are still allowed to vote, but only from their home addresses. As a result, Cranston is overrepresented in the General Assembly, while the districts from where the prisoners hail are underrepresented. (Approximately 15% of House District 20 is comprised of voters who cannot vote in Cranston.)

The ACLU once again supported legislation, sponsored by Rep. Anastasia Williams (H 7530) and Sen. Harold Metts (S 2267), to rectify this disparity and require all prisoners to be counted, for voting purposes only, at their last known address. The Prison Policy Initiative joined us in support of this legislation. Despite the 2020 Census coming swiftly, neither chamber voted on the bill.

Early Voting (H 7501, S 2419) DIED
Category: 2018    Voting Rights    

The majority of states allow for in-person early voting, recognizing that allowing people several days - instead of just one crowded day - to cast their ballot only increases the ability of the public to exercise the franchise. Legislation by Rep. Joseph Solomon (H 7501) and Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (S 2419) would have allowed Rhode Island to join with much of the rest of the country by establishing in-person early voting for our elections. The need for such a program is not hypothetical; the long lines that awaited some voters at polling places in the last general election – and many other past elections – confirm the utility of this approach. The ACLU testified in support of this legislation, particularly applauding that this bill, in order to best promote its goal, contained provisions for early voting periods that included weekends. Unfortunately, no action  was taken on the bill.

Voter Identification Repeal (H 7342, S 2448) DIED
Category: 2018    Voting Rights    

Despite concerns that photo voter ID laws disenfranchise elderly, transient and poor voters as well as voters of color, Rhode Island continues to require photo ID upon voting. Legislation by Rep. Christopher Blazejewski (H 7342) and Sen. Gayle Goldin (S 2448) would have repealed the law; the ACLU testified before the House and Senate Judiciary committees in support of the legislation. Neither committee voted on the proposal.  For a factsheet on why RI's voter ID law should be repealed, click here. For information on your rights at the polls, click here.