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Women in Government

Nellie M. Gorbea 2018 HONOREE

Secretary of State, Rhode Island

Anyone who’s ever had to vote on a bond issue knows how confusing those ballot questions can be. When Nellie Gorbea became secretary of state in 2015, she set about unspooling those impenetrable blocks of legalese. Voters have a right to read election information in clear language, she says. “You could potentially disenfranchise them if they cannot understand what you’re asking.” The state’s revised voter information handbook in 2016 came with helpful illustrations and ballot explanations written in simple, straightforward prose. 

Gorbea, who was born in Puerto Rico and is the first Latina to hold statewide office in New England, ran an affordable housing nonprofit and worked as a deputy under a previous secretary of state before running for office herself. In office she’s helped make Rhode Island one of only nine states to register voters automatically when they receive their driver’s license. She also led the push to create a portal for online voter registration.

Many states still use woefully outdated election equipment, but not Rhode Island. Gorbea helmed the effort to replace hundreds of aging voting machines for the first time since the late 1990s.

Read about the Women in Government program and the rest of the honorees.