Ocean State Un-Vetoes Electoral Reform

by Paul Fidalgo // Published January 7, 2010

This past Tuesday, FairVote and its friends in America's most wee state were very happy, as the state legislature reversed the vetoes of two bills close to our hearts: pre-registration and U.S. Senate vacancies. Here's a piece from our official press release on the big event:

The Rhode Island State Senate and House of Representatives yesterday voted to override two gubernatorial vetoes of landmark electoral reform legislation, thereby enacting FairVote-initiated measures allowing voter pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds and mandating popular elections to fill all U.S. Senate vacancies.

FairVote, a nonpartisan think tank devoted to improving American elections, has been a leader in the drive to bring these reforms to Rhode Island through the efforts of its state affiliate, FairVote Rhode Island. In 2006, FairVote was the key catalyst for the advance registration legislation, working closely with prime sponsors Rep. Edwin Pacheco and Sen. Rhoda Perry. The bill (S 0085/H 5005) will allow 16 and 17-year-old Rhode Island citizens to "pre-register" to vote, automatically adding them to the rolls for the first election for which they are eligible. Starting in 2006, this measure easily passed both houses of the Rhode Island legislature four times with bipartisan support, only to inexplicably face Gov. Donald Carcieri's veto pen each time.

FairVote this year helped usher in legislation introduced by Rep. Christopher Fierro and Sen. Paul Jabour mandating special elections for the filling of vacated U.S. Senate seats (S 0201/H 5094), the need for which became alarmingly apparent in the wake of controversies and scandals surrounding governor-appointed senators after the 2008 election. Rhode Island's own David Segal, a FairVote analyst, testified in 2009 before the U.S. Senate on behalf of a constitutional amendment mandating Senate vacancy elections backed by leading Republicans and Democrats, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), while Connecticut's Republican governor Jodi Rell signed legislation passed out of the Democratically-controlled legislature last year, though Gov. Carcieri  rejected a similar bill that had once again passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support.

Both vetoes were easily overturned by both houses of the Rhode Island legislature Tuesday.

"We are proud to have helped lay the groundwork for today's important victories," said Rob Richie, elections expert and FairVote executive director. "With the good will and strong advocacy provided over the years by FairVote and like-minded reformers-such as the leadership of both houses, Reps. Edwin Pacheco and Christopher Fierro, Sens. Paul Jabour and Rhoda Perry, and Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis-Rhode Island voters will now have expanded access for its newest voters and the final word about who represents them in the U.S. Senate. This is a good day for democracy in Rhode Island - and the nation."

Read more here. Big congrats to all who helped make this happen.