“The political machinery upon which our country is built is broken,” said Harold Ekeh ’19, president of Yale’s chapter of Every Vote Counts (EVC). EVC is a new national nonpartisan organization dedicated to tackling systemic problems in the United States’ voting system. Ekeh explained that the voting system is the basis for democracy and that a flawed system means that not all voices are being heard. EVC aims to fix the system by tackling three key issues: apathy, access, and voter suppression. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo joined the group on Friday, April 13 to talk about her and EVC’s shared commitment to these goals.
Governor Raimondo began by applauding her audience—students who showed up to hear her speak in Sudler Hall on a sunny Friday afternoon. She thanked them for their passion for voting rights. “Don’t underestimate the power of what you’re doing,” the governor said.
Governor Raimondo went on to talk about the importance of voting and the work that she has done in Rhode Island to make it as easy as possible for everyone to register and get to the polls. Her most notable achievement has been passing automatic voter registration, which allows Rhode Islanders to automatically register to vote when they go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get a driver’s license. She is also hoping to enact same-day registration in Rhode Island, which would mean voters can register and vote on the same day.
Emphasizing the importance of state politics, Governor Raimondo explained that she and her counterparts in other states play crucial roles in the fight for voting rights, specifically when it comes to redistricting. Only governors can veto unfair maps, she told the audience, and there are currently 16 Democratic governors and 34 Republican. “That is an imbalance that is not good for our democracy,” Governor Raimondo said.
Raimondo acknowledged the appeal of a job in Washington but encouraged the audience to get involved closer to home. “This work happens in state houses,” she explained. “I think that’s how we get this democracy back on track, from the bottom up. That’s how we’re going to reconnect citizens to one another, reconnect citizens to their government, convince people that it matters who they vote for.”
The importance of the current generation resurfaced several times throughout Raimondo’s brief remarks. She spoke about her admiration for the recent student-led activism around gun control and encouraged audience members to turn that energy into action.
“It isn’t enough to just march. We have to win elections… Elections have consequences, in case you haven’t noticed,” she said with a laugh.
The Politic got a chance to sit down with Governor Raimondo after her remarks.
The Politic: You obviously are very enthusiastic about this issue. Not all of your colleagues in other states are. I’m curious about what’s motivated you to take voting rights on.
Governor Gina Raimondo: In a democracy, our most precious right is the right to vote, and every vote counts—elections have huge consequences, as we’re living right now. I think it’s our responsibility to make it easier to vote and get rid of all of the deterrence and obstacles that there may be to voting. And we’ll have a stronger democracy if everyone has their voice heard and everyone has confidence in a voting system.
Have you seen similar actions taken by your colleagues in other states?
Yes. In fact, we passed an automatic voter legislation last year in Rhode Island and modeled our work very much on the work in the state of Oregon. So, there are a handful of governors and state legislators focused on it.
You said passing automatic voter registration took about two years. Can you explain the pushback you received and why exactly it was at all controversial?
In our case, it’s new—so anything new. I’m not sure it was so controversial, it’s just, it takes time to get things done in government. It’s new. There are people with whom I don’t agree who use the specious argument of voter fraud to block people’s right to vote, so they oppose anything that would increase voter registration. In our case, it was our secretary of state who really led the charge on this in the legislature, and we were able to get it done. The legislature was overwhelmingly supportive in the end.
What is typically your response when people are calling for stricter voter ID laws?
When people are calling for stricter voter ID laws, which I oppose, I say that they are providing a solution in search of a problem. There is no widespread voter fraud. There is a miniscule amount of voter fraud. It’s not a problem, so we don’t need a solution. The problem is people for whom it’s too difficult to vote because they can’t get a ride to the polls, they can’t get a day off work. That’s the problem, and that’s what we need to work on.