ACLU Sues Board of Elections over November Election Day Voting

September 11, 2008 12:00 am

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The Rhode Island ACLU today filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of a recently-adopted Board of Elections’ (“Board”) regulation that the ACLU claims may improperly disenfranchise certain voters on Election Day. The suit, filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Angel Taveras in R.I. Superior Court, specifically addresses the situation of qualified but unregistered voters who have the right, under state law, to go to their city or town hall on Election Day and cast a limited ballot for President and Vice-President.

Despite the clear wording of the state law, the new regulation allows cities and towns, with Board permission, to have same day registration and voting for President and Vice-President on Election Day take place at locations other than city or town hall “due to inadequacy of the available facilities or other concerns.” At a public hearing held on the regulation in July, the RI ACLU argued that allowing municipalities to eliminate town hall as the location for same-day voting could cause confusion and hardship for people seeking to exercise their right to vote a limited ballot. The RI ACLU noted that some people who arrive at their city or town hall to vote on Election Day, only to be told that they must cast their Presidential ballot at a different location, could be dissuaded from voting, or unable to cast their vote due to time, transportation or other difficulties.

The RI ACLU instead suggested that the Board allow municipalities to designate facilities in addition to city or town halls for same day registration and voting if they had concerns about the adequacy of those halls. The suit notes that the Board’s legal counsel also recommended this approach, but the Board unanimously rejected it.

The ACLU lawsuit seeks a court order declaring the new regulation null and void and barring the Board from implementing it. In 2004, more than 21,000 Rhode Islanders were eligible to vote for President and Vice-President only, although it is unclear how many of them registered on Election Day.

ACLU Attorney Taveras said today: “It is important for the Board of Elections to follow State law, and for all city and town halls to be open and available for same day registration and voting for President and Vice-President. If cities and towns want additional sites for same day registration and voting, that is fine but, to protect the rights of voters, they should be additional sites, not alternative sites.”

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