RI Governor Can't Keep His Story Straight on Pre-registration

by Matt Sledge // Published July 13, 2009
I know a few of you out there have followed the multi-year odyssey of youth voter pre-registration in Rhode Island, which would allow 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register then be added automatically to the rolls once they become eligible. Pre-registration wouldn't change the voting age, and it would use the same "pending" category in our state's voting software that some youngsters who will be 18 by the time of the next election are already classed in.

In sum: a simple, straightforward reform already enacted by Hawaii and Florida (where Republican Governor Charlie Crist signed it into law). Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis has endorsed it, saying he is "confident that these changes can be made while continuing to maintain the integrity of the voter list." Governor Carcieri, however, has vetoed the bill four times.

Unfortunately, the Governor can't seem to get his story straight about why he's vetoing pre-registration.

In his veto message last Friday, Carcieri cited his fear, which has been thoroughly debunked by the Secretary of State's office, that pre-registration could foul the voter rolls: "This strikes me as both counter-intuitive and counter-productive, especially considering the fact that the state spent time and money to clean up the voter lists and create a statewide central voter registry."

In 2007, Carcieri had a very different reason for vetoing an identical pair of bills. His explanation was that "...the state should concentrate on cleaning up its voter list before it adds a new category of people not yet eligible to vote."

So we're damned if we do, damned if we don't. Can't pre-register until we've cleaned up the rolls, and can't pre-register once the rolls are clean.

Both objections are nonsense, as the Governor's shifting rationalizations make evident. In fact, as I've already mentioned, pre-registration doesn't add youths to the actual voter rolls until they're eligible. Pre-registration is "counter-productive" only to the extent that registering any new voters is.

There were huge majorities in favor of the bill in both the RI House and Senate this year. Here's hoping the General Assembly overrides the Governor's veto.