Statement of Common Cause Rhode Island regarding Ken Block’s letter to the U.S. Department of Justice

Today two-time former gubernatorial candidate Ken Block sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asserting that current regulations of the Rhode Island Board of Elections, as they are worded, do not comport with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Common Cause Rhode Island is closely examining his letter and will provide a more detailed response after a thorough review. If true, in any part, Common Cause Rhode Island will call on the Board of Elections to amend their regulations and bring them into compliance with the HAVA.

An initial review of Mr. Block’s letter, however, reveals several misleading omissions and suggestions. Mr. Block’s main accusation is that the state is only requiring personally identifying information (PII) from first-time registrants who apply by mail. This ignores the language in the very regulations he is attacking that make clear the state must also collect this information when registrations are completed by third-party registrants. Third-party registrants are significant, and this is no small oversight on Mr. Block’s part.

Furthermore, Mr. Block again points out that there were 143,000 voters in the 2016 election for whom the state does not possess the PII. In raising this number Mr. Block willfully ignores the fact that prior to 2003 it was perfectly legal for anyone to register to vote without providing the PII. His insinuation that these are possibly fraudulent votes is an irresponsible attack on the legitimacy of our elections.

Mr. Block also suggests that Rhode Island’s recently passed automatic voter registration law may violate the HAVA requirements for collecting PII. This displays complete ignorance of the publicly stated purpose of automatic voter registration, which is to make the voter registration system more modern and secure. Automatic voter registration, by design, ensures that the voter file contains a more complete record for each registrant, including the PII. Mr. Block also completely ignores last year’s passage and implementation of online voter registration which is also designed to only allow for registrations and updates when the PII is part of the registration file. It appears that in ignoring and misrepresenting these reforms, Mr. Block is trying to distract from efforts to improve elections and is instead engaged in an ongoing effort to use gotcha tactics and the politics of innuendo to advance his personal agenda.

Finally, by providing all this information in the form of a letter to the Department of Justice that was shared with the media on an embargoed basis, Mr. Block demonstrates his primary goal is not to improve elections in Rhode Island, but rather to seek sensationalistic and possibly misleading headlines. This stands in sharp relief to Common Cause Rhode Island and our allies who are working constantly to improve our elections.

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