Nellie Gorbea has transformed, improved our elections

Posted 12/6/22

As election officials, it is our sworn responsibility to ensure that every eligible Rhode Islander can access the ballot and trust the integrity of our elections. Free and fair elections are vital to …

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Nellie Gorbea has transformed, improved our elections


As election officials, it is our sworn responsibility to ensure that every eligible Rhode Islander can access the ballot and trust the integrity of our elections. Free and fair elections are vital to the health of our democracy, and I am proud of the work that our team has done to ensure that every eligible Cranston resident can confidently exercise their right to vote. But we do not perform that work alone.

Rhode Island elections are run by three agencies: the 39 local boards of canvassers, the state Board of Elections, and the Elections Division under Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. In administering fair, secure, and accurate elections, these agencies are charged with working together to best serve the voters.

Election officials cannot merely tread water. As our technology and society evolves, our election processes must be modernized to keep pace. In her eight years of honorable service in office, Secretary Gorbea has spearheaded the necessary systems changes to ensure Rhode Island elections continue to be among the best-administered in the nation.

Five years ago, I served on a task force, led by Secretary Gorbea, charged with allocating millions of federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds designated for our state. State officials thought of myriad ways to spend these funds to improve their own systems, but I pointed out that no allocations were being considered for the 39 boards of canvassers for our own local-level security improvements.

Secretary Gorbea listened to these concerns, agreed that every link in the chain of our election infrastructure needed to be secured, and took action. She created a municipal election security grant program, allowing local boards of canvassers to use a significant portion of HAVA resources to shore up our cyber defenses, purchase new equipment, and upgrade our servers.

Secretary Gorbea has since regularly provided hundreds of thousands in additional grant funding and federal dollars to cash-strapped municipalities to improve our technology infrastructure, train staff, and purchase modern equipment to stay ahead of hostile threat actors that seek to compromise our systems and undermine our democracy.

These funds could have easily gone to the state, leaving municipalities to fend for themselves, but Secretary Gorbea made a conscious choice to ensure we have the resources we need to secure our systems in an increasingly dangerous global environment.

Through Secretary Gorbea’s efforts, Rhode Island has become a national leader in elections cybersecurity and a model for other states. Local and state election officials regularly convene for trainings, security briefings, and table-top exercises, and we continuously engage with our security partners, including the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, National Guard, and State Police. At Secretary Gorbea’s request, and with the strong support of local election officials (including the unanimous, bipartisan support of the Cranston Board of Canvassers), protocols to ensure these relationships persist beyond the Secretary’s term became state law earlier this year.

Secretary Gorbea has also been a leader in advocating for legislation to improve our elections. The General Assembly passed several bills introduced at her request to modernize elections administration in our state, adding important new protections for voters, and making elections administration more efficient. Among these are online voter registration and automated voter registration at the DMV. She also strongly supported the Let RI Vote Act, which overhauled our election processes to improve ballot access for every eligible voter.

I’ve already mentioned the team nature of elections in Rhode Island. In my six years of working with them, I can honestly say that the team of dedicated election officials and support staff that Secretary of Gorbea has assembled are among the most dedicated, highly competent civil servants I have had the honor to work with. They will go above and beyond the call of duty to assist any voter in need, and I’ve personally witnessed them do so on countless occasions

The elections field is dynamic and fascinating, but also incredibly challenging. Since 2020, a quarter of Rhode Island’s local election officials have retired or moved on to other lines of work. Election administrators are civil servants. Many are career employees. Some – like myself – are appointed to fixed terms, and others are elected – like Secretary Gorbea and many of the local town clerks. With the conclusion of Secretary Gorbea’s term in office, we in the elections community are losing a strong advocate and leader who has unquestionably had our backs, and who has worked tirelessly to improve election processes for all Rhode Island voters.

I’ve worked closely with Secretary Gorbea and her team throughout my six years as director of elections in Cranston, and it has been a distinct honor and privilege to do so. I thank the Secretary for her transformative leadership and steadfast public service to our state, and for always supporting the local election officials who make our democracy work.

The author is the Registrar and Director of Elections for the City of Cranston Canvassing Authority.

Gorbea, elections


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