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Rhode Island: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

Grace Han/Thrillist

Election Day is edging ever closer, meaning that future-you’s problems -- registering to vote, sorting through sundry deadlines, and deciding whether to vote in-person or by mail -- are quickly becoming now-you’s problems. Fortunately, Rhode Island has an abundance of information designed to help you cast your ballot on November 3. 

Here, we’ve collected that information so you can sort through the what, whens, and wheres of the 2020 Election, including key dates, voter rules, and some notes on how to stay safe at the polls. In other words, this is everything you need to do to avoid being that guy come November 4. 

What’s the deadline to register to vote in Rhode Island?

The deadline to register to vote in Rhode Island is October 4, whether you’re doing so in-person, online, or via mail. If you are registering to vote by mail, your application must be postmarked by October 4. Aim for earlier. This is not a time for risk taking. 

How to register to vote in Rhode Island

If you aren’t already registered to vote, visit the Rhode Island Department of State’s Voter Information Center to register to vote online; print a voter registration form to submit by mail; or ask your local board of canvassers where you can register in-person.

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island offers early voting from October 14 through November 2. You must confirm hours and locations with your local jurisdiction, but you’ll most likely be able to vote early in-person at your city or town hall with a valid photo ID like a RI driver’s license or permit, US military ID, government-issued medical card, or RI voter ID card. You can apply for a RI voter ID card by writing the State’s Election division at elections@sos.ri.gov or calling 401-222-2340 to make an appointment. 

Can I vote by mail?

Every active, registered voter can vote by mail in Rhode Island. You do not need to provide a reason. 

How to request a mail-in ballot in Rhode Island

To vote by mail, you must download the mail ballot application or request one from your board of canvassers. You must submit your application to your board by October 13 at 4pm. 

How to vote by mail in Rhode Island

After you’ve submitted your application, you'll receive your ballot in the mail. It even comes with an “I voted by mail” sticker. Fill your ballot out completely in black ink, check it twice, and seal it in the pre-addressed, postage-paid envelope. You can also hand-deliver your ballot to the Board of Elections, but it must arrive by 8pm on Election Day in either case.

Is there a way to track my mail-in ballot? How can I make sure it’s counted?

Follow the directions that accompany your ballot and submit it in perfect condition, absent even the tiniest tear. You can track the status of your mail-in ballot right here.

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

Polls are open from 7am to 8pm on Election Day. If you're in line by 8pm, you'll be allowed to vote, according to the state's FAQ for voting on Election Day. Find your polling location here.

While voting by mail is likely the safest way to participate in this election, there are ways you can reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 if you plan to vote in person at your local polling place. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued safety recommendations for voters -- all of which are simple steps you can take to protect yourself and others.

Here's a rundown of what the CDC recommends, per its election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first. 
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it). 
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location. 

Additional Rhode Island voting resources

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