A bill passed this week by the Rhode Island State Senate could see President Trump kept off that state’s ballot in the 2020 election. The new law, apparently written by Dems specifically to inconvenience the president, makes it obligatory to release your tax returns if you want Rhode Island residents to have a chance to vote for you. So far, Trump hasn’t commented on how he feels about being deprived of Rhode Island’s four electoral college votes, which all went to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Last week Rhode Island senators passed a bill that, if it gets through the state House, could see President Trump barred from the state ballot in the 2020 presidential election. The odds of it getting through the House are good, as Democrats hold 64 of the 75 seats, and if that happens there could be some serious issues at the next election.
- The bill, introduced by State Senator Gayle Goldin, requires anyone who wants to appear as a presidential candidate on the Rhode Island ballot to release their tax returns for the last five years. Unless they do that, Rhode Island residents won’t see their name on the paper when it comes time to choose our next president.
- It isn’t hard to work out that the bill is aimed specifically at President Trump. It’s become a tradition for presidential candidates to release their tax returns – every one since Richard Nixon has done it, apart from Trump. He says he can’t release his returns because he’s being audited, although he’s released plenty of other financial details. The obsessive focus on tax returns makes it pretty clear this bill is purely an anti-Trump move.
- Rhode Island is one of the most solidly Democratic states in the country. On top of their dominance in the State House, the Dems hold 32 of the 38 Senate seats and all of the state’s seats in the US Congress. In 2016, the state’s electoral college votes went to Hillary Clinton, so Trump’s absence from the ballot probably wouldn’t change much.
- However, Democrat dominance in the state may be slipping. In 2016 Trump was the top choice in one Rhode Island county – something no Republican candidate has done since Reagan in 1980. In the last ten years the Democrat lead has slid from 37 percent to 16 percent, and the state party might be trying to block Trump from the ballot in case he picks up more votes in 2020.
If the bill is passed by the state House – which is almost certain – it probably won’t change anything. This is mostly political theater. It’s also likely to face legal challenges. It’s not clear whether, constitutionally, states can set this kind of rule for a federal election. On the other hand it’s pretty certain that states shouldn’t be telling 38% of their residents they can’t vote for their preferred candidate just because he hasn’t done something that no law says he has to do.