NORTH KINGSTOWN – On Wednesday, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea hosted a press conference in North Kingstown to mark the beginning of Rhode Island’s early in-person voting period for the Nov. 3 general election, which included remarks from U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, town council president Greg Mancini and a local college student. Ahead of the press conference, Gorbea announced she would be demonstrating early in-person voting herself, casting her ballot at the North Kingstown Municipal Offices — serving as the temporary town hall — on Fairway Drive.
It was also announced that several state and local officials and candidates for office would be in attendance, including Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-Dist. 35, East Greenwich, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Rep. Robert Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown).
According to the Secretary of State’s website, the early in-person voting period will be between Oct. 14 and Nov. 2, leading up to Election Day. During this time, registered voters can cast their ballots early and in-person at their city or town halls during regular business hours.
“This is a great option if you are unable to vote at your usual polling place on Election Day, or if you have run out of time to request a mail ballot,” the website reads.
Voters will be asked to show a valid photo identification, after which they will receive their ballots to be filled out.
The press conference was held on Oct. 14, the first day of early in-person voting, to alert residents of this new means of casting their ballots.
(Due to the conference occurring at press time, speakers’ prepared remarks were sent in advance.)
Gorbea said that her top priority as Secretary of State was to make voting “convenient and secure for all Rhode Islanders.
“That includes upgrading our voting infrastructure and modernizing our election laws to meet the challenges of contemporary life,” she said. “This year, it also meant fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court so that Rhode Islanders have safe voting options during this unprecedented pandemic.”
She also said residents’ health should “never be the price of admission to our democracy.”
“Years of collaborative work between my office, the State Board of Elections and local cities and towns has made Rhode Island a leader for elections administration,” she continued. “Most importantly this year, the improvements made to elections in our state mean that Rhode Islanders have several options for voting safely and securely.
The options include voting from home with a mail ballot, voting at the polls on Election Day, and now, for the first time ever, early in-person voting.
“Starting [Oct.14], voters can go to their city or town hall during business hours, check in just as they would at a polling place, and receive their ballot,” she said. “You then fill out your ballot and feed it into the voting machine like you’ve always done. And that’s it.”
“But no matter what safe and secure option you choose, the important thing is that you cast your ballot this year,” she added. “The decisions of your elected officials have a tremendous impact on your life and the lives of your family and friends. Your vote ensures that your voice is heard, especially on the local level.”
She also said she was “especially excited” to cast her early in-person vote after the press conference.
Gorbea concluded her remarks by stating that there would be “a lot of noise and misinformation about elections as Nov. 3 draws closer.”
“You will continue to hear a lot of noise and misinformation about elections as November third draws closer. I’m here as your Secretary of State to say you can absolutely trust the integrity of our elections in Rhode Island,” she said. “We have become a national leader in cybersecurity and elections infrastructure through years of hard work. We’re one of the only states in the country with a post-election audit.”
“So whether you choose to vote by mail, at the polls or early in-person, rest assured your vote will count,” she said, adding that residents could find more information about voting at vote.ri.gov or by calling 2-1-1.
Ryan Maloney, a North Kingstown resident and junior at Georgetown University, used his remarks to convey to his peers that “voting is an action that is structural and necessary to each individual’s association to their town, state and country.”
“For each person, elections have consequences. Elections allow every person to identify with and choose the candidates that best represents their interests and the interests of the group they govern,” he said. “In conversation with my peers I have come to realize that people truly are passionate about their beliefs and their ideals politically. You see it advertised on social media, shared in one-on-one conversation and debated in dialogues amongst groups of people.”
“Therefore, for individuals that share this passion about how things should be done locally, statewide and at a national level, voting exists as the truest form of public service and citizenship,” he continued.
Maloney went on to say that every person had a right to “express their emotions and convey how they truly feel about public affairs,” though also said that those feelings should extend beyond social media.
“This is an opportunity for you to put your ideas and thoughts into action,” he said. “Don’t let this opportunity stand by the wayside and instead choose to vote.”
First time voters, like himself, should use the upcoming election as an opportunity to “set the groundwork for what we want for ourselves for several years to come,” Maloney said.
“Moreover, it is important for my peers to understand that our decisions as voters influence the direction of our town, state and country going forward,” he added. “In addition, by choosing to acknowledge this commitment to voting we set an example for our peers younger than us. No matter your beliefs, ideas, or thoughts, by voting you send the message to those that look up to you that voting is important and not something that should be taken lightly.”
“Don’t let others misrepresent the beliefs that you have,” he concluded. “The election process at a local, state and national level is a right that U.S citizens maintain as a privilege. I urge all my peers to take control of your political ideals and hold yourself accountable during the voting process, because your vote really does matter.”
Mancini spoke about the local impact of voting, kicking off his remarks with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”
However, Mancini said that, based on the percentages of registered voters casting their ballots in previous elections, America has not “been participating in our democracy,” at least not fully.
“In 2016, 55 percent of all registered voters voted in the presidential election nationally, here in North Kingstown that number was 58 percent,” he said. “In 2018, only 50.3 percent of eligible voters voted nationally, here in NK that number was 53 percent.”
While the 2018 elections had the highest turnout of any midterm election held since the 1914 elections, he added, “we can clearly have better participation in our democracy.”
“And we are here today to do our part in increasing citizen participation by letting voters know their voting options,” he said.
He said that residents could vote 20 days early by simply going to the North Kingstown Municipal Offices at 100 Fairway Drive during business hours.
“Many people did not know that you can vote early, but you can,” he continued. “In fact, 20 days early. Meaning starting today voters can walk into their local town hall during business hours and vote. During COVID some town halls may require an appointment so please confirm with your local town hall.”
He went on to say that many residents also don’t know that they can vote by mail, referencing Gorbea’s decision to send mail ballot applications to all registered voters.
“This year, our astute Secretary of State mailed out mail ballot applications,” he said. “If filled out and mailed, they will receive a mail ballot application and can mail them back or drop them off in our drop box.”
“Rhode Island, there is no excuse for not participating in our democracy this year,” he went on to say. “So, as the old Nike commercial says, just do it.”
Langevin outlined federal efforts to secure Rhode Island elections. The long-time congressman has spent much of his political career focusing on the nation’s technology infrastructure against cyber threats, even co-founding the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus.
Gorbea, a North Kingstown resident herself, said she would be casting her ballot — early and in person — inside the North Kingstown Municipal Offices following the press conference, allowing guests to observe the process for themselves and inviting them to join her.