Records Relating to Commission on Absentee Mili... | State Archives Catalog
The Civil War made the question of voting rights for absentee military personnel an urgent one, and in 1864 Kansas, Maine, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island adopted constitutional provisions for the benefit of voters in the military or naval service. By 1918, eighteen states had adopted laws designed explicitly to enfranchise soldiers whose military service prevented them from voting in their home precinct. Article II Section 2 of the Rhode Island Constitution also provides for the protection of suffrage rights for citizens absent from Rhode Island because of military service.
The Commission on Absent Military Electors was created in 1918 by Rhode Island Public Law 1918, ch. 1657 and its work was completed in the same year. The legislation gave eligible absentee military electors the right to vote in the congressional election for the House of Representatives in November 1918. The members of the commission were to include the secretary of state and two state electors, one from the Democratic Party and one from the Republican Party, each appointed by the Governor. The commission’s responsibility included the preparation and, as circumstances permitted, the distribution of ballots to servicemen. The commission was also given control and authority over the preparation, distribution, and collection of ballots. It was also empowered to make rules and regulations it deemed necessary to give effect to the intent of the law. Ballots needed to be returned to the Secretary of State by December 1918, who, in turn was directed to deliver them to the State Returning Board, where they were to be counted.