The Secretary of State is the state’s third ranking elected official, following the Governor and Lt. Governor. State law gives the Secretary of State many different duties. As Rhode Island’s chief elections officer, the Secretary of State registers voters, prepares ballots, certifies election results and administers oaths of office.
The Secretary of State also works with every company registered to do business in Rhode Island – 60,000 in all. Laws and other official acts such as issuing bonds must be signed by the Secretary of State in order to make them official. In addition, the Secretary of State also processes, preserves and gives the public access to hundreds of thousands of historic documents and public records.
The Office of the Secretary of State existed even before Rhode Island became a state. The first office-holder, William Aspinwall, served from 1637-38, just one year after the colony was founded. Over the years, the title changed from General Recorder to Secretary of the Colony until it finally become Secretary of State in 1776.
The term of office changed over the years, too. The Secretary of State served just one year at a time from 1637 until 1912, when a Constitutional amendment set the term at two years. In 1994, another Constitutional amendment changed the term to four years. Until 1663, the Secretary of State was appointed by the legislature, but now is elected by popular vote. The Secretary of State may serve only two consecutive terms before having to leave office for at least one term.
If the Office of Secretary of State becomes vacant, the General Assembly appoints a replacement to serve for the remainder of the term. In order to serve as Secretary of State, you must be at least 18 years old, a registered voter, a resident of Rhode Island for at least 30 days and a U.S. citizen.