RI State House

Rhode Island Representative Proposes Sweeping Changes to Primary Elections

In a bold move to reshape the electoral landscape, Rep. Arthur Corvese has introduced legislation that aims to revolutionize primary elections in Rhode Island. The proposed bill, labeled 2024-H 7117, seeks to replace the existing party-centric primary system with a more inclusive “general primary,” allowing all candidates to vie for votes, and ensuring that the top two contenders face off in the general election.

Under the current system, Rhode Island’s primaries are exclusive party events, forcing voters to align with either the Democratic or Republican primary and limiting their choices to candidates within that party. Representative Corvese argues that this setup does not guarantee elected officials the broad support needed to truly represent the majority of their constituents.

“With an open primary, the candidate who ultimately wins must earn the trust of at least half of the voters. It’s a way of ensuring the candidate truly represents the will of the majority of voters,” stated Representative Corvese (D-Dist. 55, North Providence).

The legislation, now in the hands of the House Committee on State Government and Elections, proposes a shift to a single general primary ballot where all candidates, irrespective of party affiliation, would compete. Voters, regardless of their own party affiliation, would be eligible to participate in this general primary.

The top two vote-getters for each office in the primary would advance to the general election. For elections with multiple seats, such as city and town councils, the number of candidates advancing would be twice the available positions. This ensures a fair representation of the diverse political landscape in Rhode Island.

Representative Corvese has been championing this legislative change since 2021, emphasizing the need to eliminate the possibility of candidates winning with less than a majority of votes. He pointed to past instances where Rhode Island governors secured office with less than 50 percent of the vote, questioning the legitimacy of such mandates.

While the proposed legislation advocates for a more open electoral process, it does not sideline political parties entirely. Candidates can still showcase their party affiliations and endorsements on both primary and general election ballots. However, once a candidate qualifies for the general election, changing party affiliations is strictly prohibited.

As Rhode Island contemplates this potential electoral overhaul, Representative Corvese envisions a system that ensures elected officials truly reflect the majority’s will, paving the way for a more representative and inclusive democracy.




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