Visitors get scoop on maintaining voter registrations

By John Howell
Posted 1/21/16

Voting records, boxes of registration forms and computers with access to volumes of digital data are about as dull as it gets.

It’s not what makes for an exciting field trip, unless, of course, …

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Visitors get scoop on maintaining voter registrations


Voting records, boxes of registration forms and computers with access to volumes of digital data are about as dull as it gets.

It’s not what makes for an exciting field trip, unless, of course, voter registration technician Dottie McCarthy is the tour guide, and the visit is to the Warwick Board of Canvassers.

“This is where the magic begins,” McCarthy said with such enthusiasm Thursday morning that even those who hadn’t had their first jolt of Dunkin’ Donuts caffeine blinked in wonderment.

McCarthy’s audience included some familiar faces, including Rep. Joseph Trillo and Robert Kando, executive director of the state Board of Elections. But there were visitors from out of state, too, for this tour and collaborative conversation about election technologies and policy hosted by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

McCarthy didn’t wait for the assembly to get their coffee, which was waiting in a separate room. Rather, she plunged right into an overview of the Warwick operation. Warwick has 62,000 registered voters, a list that keeps changing as people move into or out of the city. Many of those new registrations feed into the city’s database through the Department of Motor Vehicles as teens pre-register when they apply for a driver’s license or change addresses.

“It’s technology at its finest,” McCarthy said. Kando said the bulk of new voter registrations come through the DMV.

“Usually the first place they go after their birthday is the DMV,” Kando said of 16-year-olds. The system enables them to pre-register so that when they turn 18, they can vote.

McCarthy said the Warwick board processes from three to 30 new registrations daily and, in fact, during the hour-long Warwick visit a couple of people, somewhat bewildered by so many people packed into the office, stopped in to register. Donna Collins, clerk, and Patty Alesworth, Warwick director of elections, quickly accommodated them.

Wendy Underhill, program director for elections and redistricting for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said Warwick was picked to demonstrate the voter registration process and accurate maintenance of voter lists because of its reputation as a “well-run shop.” Her assessment was echoed by Robert Rock, director of elections for the Secretary of State, as McCarthy outlined the recruitment of high school students to work the polls. Students are required to have a 2.8 grade point average or better to work the polls.

With the exception of one student, who she left unnamed, McCarthy said the students – about 25 recruited from each of the three high schools – have been wonderful to work with and, in some cases, outshine adults. She believes their involvement cements their interest in the democratic process and allays apprehensions about voting.

“We always use Warwick as the model to get more young people involved,” Rock said.

Despite all the accolades, one question went unanswered.

Trillo pointed out that as a practice, he mails letters to all new registrants in his district from a list provided by the Warwick office. Why, he wanted to know, were as many as a third of those letters being returned as undeliverable by the post office?

McCarthy thought some people might be changing their voter registration before they actually move to the city. There seemed to be no explanation. Kando noted that the state system routs out duplications and is designed to prevent people from being registered at more than one address and multiple communities.

McCarthy is pleased with the system but finds requirements for a paper trail unnecessary when digital records are available. She also said online availability of registration forms is a great benefit to municipalities.

Following their Warwick visit, the group attended a presentation at the state Board of Elections for a demonstration of the technology used in running elections and work done between elections. After lunch at Los Andes Restaurant in Providence, a two-hour brainstorming session was held at the State House, with discussion focusing on election technology, national funding sources, and legislative trends in election administration.

The session was funded by a grant from the Democracy Fund.


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