- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2020

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A federal judge has ruled that candidates for political office in Rhode Island can collect signatures electronically during the coronavirus pandemic to reduce the risk of exposure.

U.S. District Court Judge Mary McElroy wrote in her decision Thursday that electronic signature gathering was in the public interest.

“In-person signatures amid a pandemic, one comprised of a highly contagious virus transmitted through close human contact, actually would undermine the public interest,” she wrote.

The decision only applies to candidates running for office this year.

Under the decision, candidates can email nomination papers to voters and have them returned the same way. The nomination papers can also be returned to the appropriate board of canvassers either in person, via drop box, mailed, or faxed.

The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island on behalf of six Senate candidates said in-person signature gathering “needlessly exposes candidates, their supporters, and the general public to risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic with no justifiable countervailing government interest.”

The state argued that electronic signature gathering opened the state to cyber attack.

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