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. To learn more about protecting your right to vote, click on the resources on the right.

Problems voting? Call the ACLU of RI at (401) 831-7171, or click here for our VOTING RIGHTS COMPLAINT FORM.

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”
  • Jan, 27, 2017: ACLU Report Examines Voting Problems in November Election

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

Combined Voting Districts (H 5864, S 474) Passed
Category: 2019    Voting Rights    

H 5864 and S 474 allows Boards of Canvassers to combine voting districts for many elections. We testified that there should be objective standards in place regarding how decisions are made to consolidate polling locations, as well as a notification system to voters to inform them of the change and a limit on the number of voters that can be sent to a polling location. The legislation, however, contained no standards whatsoever. Along with other voting rights advocacy groups, we proposed an amendment to address these concerns in the House version of the bill which was ultimately defeated on the floor. Despite our submission of a veto request, the bill was ultimately signed. 

Counting of Write-In Candidates (H 5709, S 477) Passed House, Died in Senate
Category: 2019    Voting Rights    

Regardless of who a vote is for, even if it is for an inevitably losing cause, all voters fundamentally deserve the right for their votes to be counted. For this reason, we opposed a bill (H 5709, S 477) which would have eliminated the counting of write-in votes for persons who had not filed in advance a “declaration of intent.” This bill passed the House but died in the Senate.

Prison Gerrymandering (H 5513) Died in Committee
Category: 2019    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 Representative Anastasia Williams (H 5513) 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. Unfortunately, this legislation died in committee.

Election Reform Bills (H 5736, H 5292, H 5698, S 323, S 339, S 477, S 631) Died
Category: 2019    Voting Rights    

The ACLU testified on a variety of election-related bills, some of which we supported and some of which we did not. On the positive side were important pieces of legislation which would have allowed candidates to use campaign funds to finance childcare (H 5736S 323), would have repealed Rhode Island’s voter ID law because of the obstacles it creates to the right to vote (S 339), and would have established a meaningful process for early voting (H 5292S 631). We also supported a piece of legislation which would have subjected the Board of Elections to the rule-making provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act, H 5698, introduced by Representative Joseph Shekarchi. These bills all ultimately died. 

Presidential Tax Returns (H 5727, S 342) Passed Senate, Died in House
Category: 2019    Voting Rights    

We have long opposed legislative efforts to impose added qualifications in order for candidates to appear on the ballot in Rhode Island. For that reason, we opposed H 5727 and S 342, which would have required presidential candidates to publicly disclose their federal tax returns in order to be listed on the ballot. The ACLU argued that the ability to vote for an individual’s preferred candidate is a critical part of the fundamental right to vote. This bill passed the Senate but died in the House.