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Rhode Island. Dept. of State | State Archives Catalog

Name: Rhode Island. Dept. of State


Historical Note:

The secretary of state is the head of the Department of State, which is a part of the executive branch of government. Prior to 1730 the position was known as the General Recorder.  The 1647 Acts and Orders described the position of the General Recorder as follows:

Be it enacted by this present Assemblie, that the Generall Recorder’s Office shall be in the generall, to keep a Coppie of all the Records or Acts of the Generall Assemblie, Generall and particular Courts of Judicature, Rolles of the Freemen of the Colonie, Records, Evidences, Sales and Bargaines of Land, Wills and Testaments of the Testators, and orders of the Townsmen touching the Intestate, Records of the Limitts and Bounds of Townes, their Highways, Driftwayes, Commons and Fencings, Priviledges and Liberties.

The position of General Recorder, also sometimes referred to as that of the Recording Secretary, remained under King Charles II’s Royal Charter of 1663. The title changed to Secretary of State in 1730.

According to the Rhode Island Manual 1975-1976, “the secretary of state is the general recording officer of the State and serves as the secretary of the senate. In the performance of his duties he prepares and compiles annually the Public Laws of the state, prepares all ballot labels and arranges for the filing of all primary and election papers, maintains and keeps the Central Voter Registry accurate, keeps all corporate records, registers all notaries public, compiles lists of representatives and senators elected in the state, administers the commercial code and biannually publishes the Rhode Island Manual. This office has custody of the official state seal and the original of all enacted laws. The state archives, as a unit of this office, has custody of all legislative records from the colonial period to the present”.

The secretary of state is required to facilitate the accessibility of records to the public.  Besides appointing a State Archivist to organize the State Archives and maintain a research room within, the secretary of state also publishes manuals aimed at consolidating and presenting information to the public in a straightforward manner. Some of the major functional changes include its constitutional duties and its responsibilities relating to elections. Until 2003, the secretary of state served as the secretary of the senate. In 1994, the General Assembly, in joint resolutions 184 and 193, voted to repeal Article 8, Section 4 of the Rhode Island Constitution, which declared that the secretary of state was also the secretary of the senate.  Upon approval by the voters, this constitutional change took effect January 2003.

The secretary of state is in charge of receiving nominations, preparing ballots, and maintaining the central voter register, but there have been several changes and modifications in terms of the secretary of state’s specific duties relating to elections. In 1936, Public Law chapter 2479, required the Department of State to create a division of elections which would appoint a board of elections. This board of elections was responsible for all functions relative to vote tabulation and maintaining voting machine equipment.  The board remained under the jurisdiction of the department of state until 1941, when it became an independent agency of the state (PL 1941, chapter 1040). Today, the Board of Elections monitors the implementation of election laws including campaign finance, maintains voting equipment, performs duties relating to the conduct of elections and certifies the election results.

Presently, the Office of the Secretary of State includes five (5) divisions; the Public Information Division, the Corporations Division, the Elections Division, the State Archives and Public Records Administration, and the State Library.

The Public Information division is responsible for registering lobbyists, enforcing the state’s lobbying laws and maintaining and providing access to meeting minutes filed by agencies.  The division is also responsible for maintaining filings of the following:  Public Laws and Acts and Resolves of the General Assembly; Governor’s vetoes and messages; certificates of engagements relative to general officers, governor’s cabinet, judges and sheriffs; and Governor’s executive orders.

The Corporations division is the official agent and record keeper for all official corporate filings, UCC filings and notary and trademark applications.  The division holds entity filings pursuant to RIGL§ 7-1.2, 7-5.1 7-6, 7-7, 7-8, 7-12, 7-13 and 7-16, and certificates of engagement relative to notaries, justices of the peace, general assembly members, court clerks and railroad commissioners.

The Elections division is responsible for maintaining the central voter registry, preparing ballots, preparing forms and publishing guides for voters and candidates. Statutory requirements are enumerated under RIGL § 17-6. The division is also responsible for voter, electoral process and civic education.

The State Library is responsible for providing reference and research services to the General Assembly, government agencies and the general public.  The state library operates the Legislative Reference Bureau, is a Federal Government Publications Depository and serves as the State Publications Clearinghouse (RIGL § 29-7) which provides copies of state documents libraries and facilities throughout the state. The state library was created by resolution of the General Assembly in 1852 (RIGL § 29-1) and the state librarian served as the state records commissioner .

The State Archives and Public Records Administration is charged with preserving and maintaining the permanent records of state government (RIGL § 42-8.1 and 38-3). The State Archives is the official custodian and trustee for the state of public records of permanent, historical and legal value.  The Public Records Administration is charged with overseeing records management functions within state government (RIGL § 38-1 and 38-3).



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