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On June 27, 2022, Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee signed the Rhode Island Senate Bill 2118 which entitles disabled and military voters from the state to utilize electronically transmitted ballots.

The Governor signed the bill into law despite the concerns raised by election officials and critics of electronic voting.

Source: Legiscan

Under this law, eligible voters could request an electronic ballot if the secretary of state’s office approves a system that’s gone through “one or more independent security reviews” and meets the scrutiny of the cybersecurity framework published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Source: State Scoop

Senate Bill 2118

The new law, S2118, calls for giving deployed military service members, citizens residing overseas and people with physical disabilities the ability to receive and submit their ballots online.

The law allows the Governor’s office to transmit ballots to military and overseas voters.

During the 2020 election, the ballots were transmitted electronically to disabled residents living overseas, but they could only be returned by mail or placed in a drop box.

The bill does not define what disability would enable voters to transmit ballots electronically.

But it can be interpreted to include “any type of illness you can think of which impairs your ability to get out and about to go cast your vote.”

Source: The Providence Journal

What the critics have to say about the new Senate Bill

Even though the legislation was passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly earlier this year by a comfortable margin, it raised criticisms from election-security advocates.

They have long maintained that submitting votes over an internet connection could imperil the secret ballot.

At a hearing earlier in 2022, one state lawmaker after another stood up and voiced their misgivings.

Only the lead sponsor of the Bill, Senator Stephen Archambault, Democrat-Smithfield spoke in favor of the legislation.

“No current technology exists that allows a [ballot] to be transmitted electronically, without risk of interception or alteration by hostile threat actors – including well-equipped nation state actors that are intent on disrupting American elections by any means necessary.”

– Cranston’s director of elections, Nicholas Lima

Would Rhode Island be the first to allow electronic voting?

The answer is no. Most states that allow voters to submit their absentee ballots electronically – via fax, email or web portal.

Electronic voting is reserved only for voters who fall under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.

Four states allow some voters to return ballots using a web-based portal: Arizona, Colorado, Missouri and North Dakota. Missouri only offers electronic ballot return to military voters serving in a “hostile zone,” according to a 2019 National Conference of State Legislatures.

Verified Voting warned  Rhode Island lawmakers that in the lead-up to the 2020 elections, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and two other federal agencies “told states and election officials that electronic ballot return creates significant security risks to the confidentiality of ballot and voter data [and the] integrity of the voted ballot.”

Source: The Providence Journal

Final Thoughts

The move by Rhode Island to allow internet voting for disabled voters and military voters overseas is a step in the right direction.

Internet-based voting requires websites and web content including candidate information, election information, etc., to be made accessible to people with disabilities. Election officials must provide voters with accessible election material to improve voter turnout, stay compliant with accessibility laws, and avoid federal enforcement actions.

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