Two weeks ago, the state of Rhode Island agreed to eliminate witness/notary requirements for vote by mail throughout the 2020 elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in a consent decree resolving a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Rhode Island, Campaign Legal Center, and the law firm Fried Frank on behalf of Common Cause of Rhode Island, the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island and three voters who face serious health risks if they contract the disease. Today, the Republican National Committee and the Rhode Island Republican Party sought a stay of that consent decree from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Statements from the ACLU of Rhode Island, Common Cause RI, and the League of Women Voters of RI about this development appear below:
Statement of Common Cause Rhode Island executive director John Marion:
“Our government ‘of the people’ is stronger when more people are able to participate by voting. We are in a pandemic. Requiring voters to have their mail-in ballots validated by two witnesses or a notary adds a significant health risk to the act of casting a ballot. No one should have to choose between their health and their right to vote. This court case should have ended two weeks ago, when the state of Rhode Island agreed to eliminate witness/notary requirements for vote by mail throughout the 2020 elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the Republican National Committee and the Rhode Island GOP – who were never parties to our lawsuit – are seeking a stay of the consent decree, thus re-imposing the witnesses/notary requirement, and potentially throwing the primary election into chaos.”
Statement of ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown:
“Rhode Island elections officials are unanimous in their view that the only safe way to conduct upcoming elections in our state is by eliminating the two-witness requirement for mail ballots, a requirement that only one other state in the country has. Two courts have confirmed the legitimacy of that concern and approved the common-sense solution of temporarily suspending the requirement. The unceasing attempt by the Republican Party to put the health and life of Rhode Islanders at risk is cruel to an extreme and demonstrates that their campaign of voter suppression apparently has no limits. The ACLU will continue to challenge their efforts to undermine Rhode Islanders’ right to vote.”
Statement of League of Women Voters of RI executive director Jane W. Koster:
"The court's decision upholding our agreement to waive Rhode Island’s onerous two-witness and notary requirement for mail-in ballots for our upcoming elections was a victory for voters. These requirements do nothing to improve the security of our elections; instead, they effectively disenfranchise Black, Latinx, elderly, and disabled voters, who will rely heavily on mail-in ballots to vote safely this year. The League will continue to advocate for voter safety to be the number one priority as we continue to navigate this election-year pandemic."