R.I. voting concerns

The following editorial appeared in The Providence Journal.

Ken Block, a software entrepreneur and two-time gubernatorial candidate, has been looking into Rhode Island elections of late. What he has discovered, he contends, is shocking.

Some 143,000, or about 31 percent, of the Rhode Islanders who voted last November did not have either a driver's license or their last four Social Security digits as part of their voter registration, something required by a 2003 federal law. More than 22,000 of those people were registered to vote after the law took effect on Jan. 1, 2003, he said.

Moreover, these voters seem concentrated in certain communities. In Central Falls, for example, 21 percent of the voters registered starting in 2003 did not include that required information.

In Block's view, that deficiency increases the chances of voter fraud. In addition, the lack of data makes it harder to weed out names that should no longer be on the voter rolls.

Block sent a complaint to the U.S. Justice Department asking it to enforce the law.

All this has stirred up some animosity. R.I. Board of Elections member Stephen Erickson, a former Democratic state representative and district court judge, blasted Block in a series of tweets.

"His behavior screams publicity hound. No showing of good faith," Mr. Erickson tweeted in one such message. "We could have (worked together, but Block) chose to punch (the Board of Elections) in nose instead."

Maybe everyone should take a deep breath.

The elections board has promised to look into Block's concerns. Part of that is an examination of how others states have interpreted and implemented the complex federal law.

While no one wants fraud to occur, it seems evident that legitimate older voters comprise most of the group Block is worried about. Moreover, Rhode Island has strong protections against fraud in place, including a voter I.D. law. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea has done an excellent job of cleaning up voter rolls over the last 18 months. She implemented a change on her website requiring voters to include the data Block cited when updating their registration.

Our system of self-government is strengthened when citizens pay close attention to how elections are conducted and safeguarded. They should feel welcome to speak up if they see something potentially amiss, even if they are not experts. It is the people's government, after all.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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