Resource: Common Cause R.I. v. Gorbea

By: Healthy Elections Project

November 19, 2020

Healthy Elections Project

Plaintiffs Common Cause Rhode Island (CC-RI), League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, and three Rhode Island registered voters sued Rhode Island Secretary of State and members of the Rohde Island Board of Elections, challenging the state's two witness/notary signature requirement of mail-in ballots. With exceptions related to voters in medical facilities, abroad, or out of state for military service, Rhode Island requires that “the signature on the certifying envelopes containing a voted ballot must be made before a notary public or two (2) witnesses who shall set forth their addresses on the form.” R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 17-20-2.1(d)(1), (d)(4). Where the voter is voting by mail because they are “confined in any hospital, convalescent home, nursing home, rest home, or similar institution, public or private, within the State of Rhode Island,” the ballot “must be witnessed by the state supervisors” who travel in bipartisan pairs to each of the aforementioned facilities within twenty days before the election, R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 17-20-14(a), 17-20-2(2). Plaintiffs alleged that these laws violated the ADA and the First and Fourteenth Amendments as applied to elections during the COVID-19 pandemic as they imposed an undue burden on elections. The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief to suspend the witness and notary requirement for the September 2020 primary and the November 2020 general elections.