§ 17-20-26. Opening and counting of ballots.
(a)(1) Beginning prior to and continuing on election day the state board, upon receipt of mail ballots, shall keep the ballots in a safe and secure place that shall be separate and apart from the general public area and shall:
(i) Open the outer envelope and attach the matching ballot application to the inner certifying envelope;
(ii) Beginning fourteen (14) days prior to and continuing on election day, proceed to certify the mail ballots.
(2) Notice of these sessions shall be given to the public on the state board of elections' website, the secretary of state's website, and announcements in newspapers of general circulation published at least twenty-four (24) hours before the commencing of any session. All candidates for state and federal office, as well as all state party chairpersons, shall be given notice by telephone or otherwise of the day on which ballots affecting that candidate's district will be certified; provided, that failure to effect the notice shall in no way invalidate the ballots.
(b) This processing shall be done within a railed space in the room in which it takes place, and the board shall admit within the railed space, in accordance with those rules that the board shall adopt, to witness the processing and certification of the ballots, the interested voter or the voter's representative, the candidates, or at least one representative of each candidate for whom votes are at the time being processed, and an equal number of representatives of each political party. These representatives shall be authorized in writing by the voter, the candidate, or the chairperson of the state committee of the political party, respectively, as the case may be. The board shall also, in accordance with these rules, admit representatives of the press and newscasting agencies and any other persons that it deems proper.
(c) At these sessions, and before certifying any ballot, the state board shall:
(1) Determine the city or town in which the voter cast his or her ballot and classify accordingly; and
(2) Compare the name, residence, and signature of the voter with the name, residence, and signature on the ballot application for mail ballots and satisfy itself that both signatures are identical.
(d) [Deleted by P.L. 2015, ch. 259, § 1].
(e) The board shall establish guidelines setting forth the grounds for challenging the certification of mail ballots. These guidelines shall recognize that if a ballot can be reasonably identified to be that of the voter it purports to be, and if it can reasonably be determined that the voter was eligible to vote by mail ballot and if the requirements of § 17-20-2.1 were complied with, it should not be subject to frivolous or technical challenge. The burden of proof in challenging a mail ballot as not obtained and/or cast in conformance with this chapter is on the person challenging the ballot. Once the irregularity is shown, the burden of proof shall shift to the person defending the ballot to demonstrate that it is the ballot of the voter it purports to be, that the voter was eligible to vote by mail ballot, and that all of the applicable requirements of § 17-20-2.1 were complied with. The guidelines shall be adopted at a public meeting of the board and shall be made available prior to the start of the certification process for mail ballots.
(f) After processing and certification of the mail ballots, they shall be separated in packages in accordance with their respective cities and towns, in the presence of the board and all other interested parties. Thereupon, in each instance the board shall open the enclosing envelope, and without looking at the votes cast on the enclosed ballot, shall remove the ballot from the envelope. The state board shall proceed to tabulate the ballots through the use of a central count optical-scan unit with the same effect as if the ballots had been cast by the electors in open town or district meetings.
(g) When a local election is held at a time other than in conjunction with a statewide election, the state board, after the processing and certification of the mail ballots cast in the local election, shall package the local ballots to be promptly delivered in sealed packages, bearing upon the seals the signatures of the members of the board, to the appropriate local board which shall [a] thereupon proceed to count the ballots in the same manner and with the same effect as state mail ballots are counted by the state board.
(h) When a local election is held in New Shoreham at a time other than in conjunction with a statewide election, the state board, after the processing and certification of the mail ballots cast in the local election, shall have the authority to count the ballots in the same manner and with the same effect as state mail ballots are counted by the state board in a statewide election. Once the ballots are counted, the results shall be sent via facsimile to the local board in New Shoreham.
(P.L. 1978, ch. 258, § 2; P.L. 1980, ch. 407, § 1; P.L. 1981, ch. 326, § 1; P.L. 1983, ch. 172, § 17; P.L. 1996, ch. 277, § 13; P.L. 1996, ch. 298, § 13; P.L. 2005, ch. 119, § 3; P.L. 2005, ch. 167, § 3; P.L. 2006, ch. 314, § 1; P.L. 2006, ch. 459, § 1; P.L. 2015, ch. 259, § 1.)