This Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court has delivered a new decision against Republicans who were trying to maintain tough restrictions on mail-in voting in Rhode Island amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, Rhode Island state authorities had planned to lift the requirements for either two witnesses or a notary to supervise someone filling out their mail-in ballot, since after all, the Coronavirus pandemic has made gathering with potential strangers (like a notary) a particular danger for some folks. Republicans, including the state GOP and national backers, had argued that lifting the witness/notary requirements would unfairly open up opportunities for fraud, but the Supreme Court decided against them anyway and denied their request for an emergency halt to the state’s plans.
Rhode Island state authorities were essentially united in their plans to lift the witness/notary requirements, which the Supreme Court pointed out in its ruling. “[Here] the state election officials support the challenged decree, and no state official has expressed opposition,” they noted, adding: “Under these circumstances, the applicants lack a cognizable interest in the State’s ability to ‘enforce its duly enacted’ laws.” In other words, it appears as though it’s unclear what standing that the GOP has to assume that the state is failing in its work to carry out the elections protocol when it’s the one that’s setting the protocol in the first place.
Rhode Island’s Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea “quickly said ballots would start to be mailed out on Thursday,” local news outlet WPRI reports. Gorbea added:
‘Your health should never be the price of admission to our democracy. Making it easier to vote safely from home by removing the burden of obtaining two witnesses or a notary is a common-sense step that will protect Rhode Islanders during this pandemic.’
The Supreme Court noted that Rhode Island has already had an election, in June, without the witness/notary requirements in force. June was, of course, right in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic, and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D) signed an executive order to lift the requirements prior to that election.
The GOP’s struggle against voting accessibility in Rhode Island mirrors a national-level fight against mail-in voting from the president. Based in the same unfounded accusations of rampant fraud, Trump has been ranting and raving against mail-in voting, and this week, he even suggested he was prepared to withhold funding from the Post Office in the name of thwarting mail-in voting.