FairVote RI

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US Senate Vacancy Bill Passed
RI House first chamber in nation; also passes pre-registration bill
The Rhode Island House today became the first legislative chamber in the nation after the Blagojevich debacle to approve a bill that would guarantee every US Senator is elected. The bill, H 5005, sponsored by Rep. Christopher Fierro, won a 64-6 majority in the House, with support from both Democrats and Republicans.

“This chamber did its duty in responding to the public uproar over the Blagojevich scandal,” said Rep. Fierro. “Every United States Senator should be elected by the direct vote of the people, not arbitrary gubernatorial selection.”

If the bill passes in the Rhode Island Senate, where a companion measure (S 201, sponsored by Senator Paul Jabour) was heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the same day, the bill will reach Governor Donald Carcieri’s desk.

“I hope Governor Carcieri will carefully consider this bill’s many benefits for Rhode Islanders. If there is ever a Senate vacancy, we should use the most transparent and fair process to fill the seat, an election. Elected senators have earned the trust of their constituents in an election. That’s why elected Senators have much higher re-election rates than their appointed colleagues,” said Matt Sledge, FairVote Rhode Island Director.

When appointed senators choose to run, they have a re-election rate that hovers around 50%--far lower than their elected colleagues.

Similar legislation was introduced in the Rhode Island House and Senate and backed by FairVote last year. The spate of gubernatorial appointments in the wake of Barack Obama’s gave Fierro’s bill critical momentum this year. Nine states in 2009 are considering legislation to mandate elections, not gubernatorial appointments, in the wake of Senate vacancies.

In Rhode Island, the governor currently makes an interim appointment which lasts from the time of the vacancy until the next general election, according to current state law- in other words, for a period of up to two years.

FairVote supports moving to a model along the lines of Oregon or Wisconsin, whose laws ensure that that every person who goes to represent Rhode Island in Washington is elected by the people. The language of H 5094 (Rep. Fierro) and S 201 (Sen. Jabour) is based on and nearly identical to the language in current state law which provides for special elections in case of vacancies in the US House of Representatives.

Pre-Registration Passes
Also in the Rhode Island House on March 10, Representatives approved H 5005 (Rep. Edwin Pacheco) on  a 55-10 vote, with bipartisan support. The bill that would permit advance voter registration of 16 and 17 year olds. Previous versions of this bill have passed for three years running (2006, 2007, and 2008), only to be vetoed by Governor Carcieri.

“Pre-registration should be approved by the full General Assembly swiftly,” said FairVote RI Director Matt Sledge. “If the Governor plans to again veto this simple and easy measure to boost youth civic engagement, the General Assembly should quickly override his veto.”

Young voters aged 18-29 currently vote at rates similar to the rest of the population, but only when they are registered. The “registration gap” between younger and older voters has been closing, particularly in the wake of President Obama’s election campaign, but it still accounts for most of the difference in voting rates.

Pacheco hopes the bill, which allows for pre-registration in the straightforward and regulated environments of the DMV or a high school civics class, could close some of the registration gap.

Rhode Island House Judiciary Approves Pre-Registration, US Senate Vacancy Bills
Two of FairVote Rhode Island's legislative goals--youth voter pre-registration and direct elections for vacant US Senate seats--passed the RI House Judiciary Committee with flying colors on March 4, 2009.

H 5094, sponsored by Rep. Christopher Fierro, would ensure that every US Senator from Rhode Island is directly elected. The current law in Rhode Island allows the governor to make an appointment to fill a vacant US Senate seat, and the appointed senator may serve as long as two years before facing the voters. FairVote RI supported a similar measure last year, well before the issue came to capture the public attention in the wake of the Blagojevich scandal. A Constitutional amendment recently introduced by US Sen. Russ Feingold would accomplish the same goal on a national level. H 5094 won unanimous, bipartisan approval from the nine voting members of the Judiciary Committee.

Youth voter pre-registration (H 5005), sponsored by Rep. Edwin Pacheco, would allow 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register to vote in civics class or at the DMV. The bill passed the committee on an 8-1 vote. Pre-registration has been approved by the General Assembly for the last three years.

Time to elect all our representatives
Advance in Rhode Island and FairVote testimony to Congress
On March 10, the Rhode Island House of Representatives handily approved two FairVote-backed proposals: a uniform advance voter registration age of 16 (voting 54-10) and a requirement that any vacancy to the U.S. Senate be elected rather than appointed (voting 64-6). Both proposals advance democracy -- and have real chances to go to Rhode Island's governor this year.

On March 11, the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution and the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a joint hearing on the Feingold-McCain constitutional amendment to require election of all U.S. Senators. FairVote analyst David Segal testified.


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March 12th 2009
Matt Sledge: Notwithstanding budget crisis, R.I. mustn't cut civics position
The Providence Journal

RHODE ISLAND and America in general are in a fiscal crisis that also seems to be a crisis of government. In response, the Rhode Island Board of Regents plans to cut the sole statewide civics-education position, along with funding for civics professio

March 11th 2009
Senate vacancy bill OK'd in House
The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE -- A bill that would strip the governor of his power to appoint a replacement in the event of a midyear U.S. Senate vacancy was passed by the House yesterday in a 64-to-6 vote and sent to the Senate.

February 8th 2009
Rep wants U.S. Senate vacancies filled by election
The Pawtucket Times

If the vacancy occurs after that, the seat will be filled during the November election that year. Matthew Sledge of the group Fair Vote RI told the committee that the bill “improves democracy."

February 2nd 2009
Illinois flap spurs R.I. bill on naming senators
The Providence Journal

Allegations that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama prompted the filing of legislation here to strip Rhode Island's governor of the power to appoint replacement U.S. senators.

January 29th 2009
Illinois' Lesson for Rhode Island
The Brown Daily Herald

Brown Daily Herald columnist weighs in on the direct election of US Senators. Quotes from Matt Sledge and Rep. Christopher Fierro.

January 24th 2009
Don't Name That Senator
New York Times

Rhode Island State Representative and FairVote Analyst David Segal argues for special elections for senatorial vacancies and for instant runoff voting.

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