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1 Electronic Ballot Petition Signatures in Rhode Island during a Pandemic 1 (2021)

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CASE STUDIES IN EMERGENCY ELECTION LITIGATION


             Electronic Ballot Petition Signatures
             in  Rhode Island During a Pandemic
      Acosta  v. Restrepo  (Mary  S. McElroy,   D.R.I. 1:20-cv-262)
      Because  of the global COVID-19  infectious pandemic, a district
      judge  in Rhode Island ordered election officials to accept ballot peti-
      tion signatures electronically.
           Subject: Getting on the ballot. Topics: Getting on the ballot;
       COVID-19.
Six prospective candidates for Rhode Island's senate filed a federal complaint
against election officials for Rhode Island and five of its municipalities on
Tuesday, June  16, 2020, challenging Rhode Island's requirement of collecting
ballot petition signatures in person during a narrow time window   between
June 30 and July 10, made difficult by the social distancing that became neces-
sary during the global COVID-19  infectious pandemic.1 With their complaint,
the plaintiffs filed an emergency motion for injunctive relief and expedited
consideration.2
    Judge Mary S. McElroy set the case for a remote chambers videoconference
on Friday at 3:00 p.m.3 She set the conference for late in the day so that the
parties had the morning to get organized.4 She then set the case for a 3:30 p.m.
hearing by videoconference  on June 23, and then she set the case for another
videoconference  at noon on June 25.'
    On  June 25, Judge  McElroy  issued a preliminary  injunction requiring
Rhode  Island's election authorities to accept ballot petition signatures elec-
tronically for the November election.6 Because of the pandemic, and the effect
the in-person signature requirement will have on ballot access, the current sig-
nature process is not narrowly tailored to advance the state's interests.7







   1. Complaint, Acosta v. Restrepo, No. 1:20-cv-262 (D.R.I. June 16, 2020), D.E. 1; Acosta v.
Restrepo, 470 F. Supp. 3d 161, 163-65 (D.R.I. 2020); see Katherine Gregg, ACLU Sudes to
Suspend Signature requirementfor F.. Ballot Access, Providence J., June 18, 2020, at A5.
   2. Motion, Acosta, No. 1:20-cv-262 (D.R.I. June 16, 2020), D.E. 2; Acosta, 470 F. Supp. 3d
at 165.
   3. Docket Sheet, Acosta, No. 1:20-cv-262 (D.R.I. June 16, 2020).
   For this report, Tim Reagan interviewed Judge McElroy and her law clerk Kevin Rolando
by telephone on September 4, 2020.
   4. Interview with Hon. Mary S. McElroy and her law clerk Kevin Rolando, September 4,
2020.
   5. Docket Sheet, supra note 3.
   6. Acosta, 470 F. Supp. 3d 161; see Katherine Gregg, Judge: Signatures Not Worth It in Virus
Age, Providence J., June 24, 2020, at A4.
   7. Acosta, 470 F. Supp. 3d at 167.


Federal Judicial Center 1/25/2021


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