RI Senate Civil Liberties Voting Rankings

See which Senators have voted to protect your rights and civil liberties here in Rhode Island

The ACLU made its mark as a non-partisan organization by often doing what others find difficult: supporting an individual's rights even when it is not a popular decision to do so. Whether it is the right to attend public school without the influence of religious propaganda, or a convicted child rapist's right to live in town after his sentence is completed, public sentiment rarely influences the ACLU's mission. The importance of defending rights against unpopular sentiment cannot be overstated - today the rights being defended may not apply to you. Tomorrow, they very well could. 

The Conservative side of Rhode Island politics has often cited Democrats as the "enemy of freedom" and the party more likely to enact new crimes, harm privacy, and restrict civil rights. Our findings, however, show a less than stellar civil rights voting record across the board with not a single Senator achieving an "Excellent" rating. Oddly enough, we found that conservative Senators were wildly inconsistent depending on the category of rights being defended. For example the most conservative Senator achieved the worst score overall on several categories, but achieved the best score overall on several others. The biggest surprise to voters, however, will be the below average performance Senate-wide, including even the more popular members of the State Senate.

Our rankings are the first ever "scorecard" to include committee votes. Committee votes play a huge part in Democracy, because a bill voted down in committee usually never sees the light of day for a floor vote. Many good bills die in committee, both on the local and national level and much more attention should be paid to this step in the lawmaking process. In committee, a small group of legislators votes on behalf of the entire Senate and determines whether a bill is worthy of a full floor vote. With respect to these rankings, committee votes (most of which fell under the Judiciary Committee) were especially damaging to civil rights, as we often found good bills that solidify the rights of Rhode Islanders were killed in committee via the "Held for Further Study" gimmick. The gimmick works like this: Rather than going on the record as opposing a good bill or supporting an unpopular bill, voting to hold a bill for further study allows the committee to kill a bill by simply ignoring it. While some bills held are actually "studied" and re-introduced for a second vote later on in the session, the vast majority of bills come to an end using this maneuver. Our rankings treat a vote for further study as a no vote if the bill never comes up again in the session. As a result, voters have a much clearer picture of how damaging committees can be to progress.

How We Measured Civil Liberties Voting Records

We evaluated nearly 100 bills with assigned Senate bill numbers (plus the unusually handled H5125) in which the Rhode Island ACLU lobbied in favor or against during the 2018-2019 legislative years. After removing bills that were covered in other rankings sets and bills that changed dramatically from when the ACLU first evaluated them, we ended with 92 bills that form these rankings. Senators were awarded a point for floor votes that support the ACLU position, and zero points if they opposed the ACLU position, abstained, or were absent from the vote. Those serving on committees that voted on an applicable bill were awarded a point for a committee vote that aligned with the ACLU position, and zero points for a vote opposing the ACLU position. An absence or abstaining from a committee vote was not counted at all, as legislators were more likely to miss committee votes than floor votes due to other obligations. As such, we chose not to penalize this for the 2020 rankings, since a penalty exists already on the floor vote. This may change in the future if we find legislators deliberately skipping committee votes to avoid accountability. However, for the bills we evaluated, this did not seem to be the case. 

Bills were categorized according to how the ACLU grouped them, with some exceptions. Some categories the ACLU used did not have enough bills to fairly score each legislator, so these bills were moved to the broad "Civil Rights" or "Criminal Justice" category, based on which was most applicable.  A minimum of 4 applicable bills were required for each category. While votes for every bill were counted in the overall score, legislators who were only able to vote on 1 or fewer bills in a category (due to being elected more recently) have their score showing as "N/A" because a single bill is not enough data to form a proper evaluation. If a comittee or floor vote was blocked by the Senate President (this occured in one case), the Senate President was penalized as an opposing vote.

Best Civil Rights Voting Record


Sam Bell

District 5 (Elected 2018)


Excellent score on the large Civil Rights category

Shorter Voting History Than Most

Poor Scores Similar to Other Senators on Criminal Justice

Like the other Senators elected in 2018, Dr. Bell's record is less established, having only been able to participate in 27 of these bills from 2019. While Senator Bell did not achieve the highest score in any one category, his performance was more consistent than most, achieving above average scores on 3 of the 6 categories including a very good score on the broad Civil Rights category.


Frank Lombardo

District 25 (Elected 2010)


Outstanding Scores on Civil Rights and 1st Amendment Categories

Better Than Most on Voting Rights Bills, Despite an Unimpressive Score

Poor Scores on Privacy and Criminal Justice Rights

While just missing the top spot, Mr. Lombardo's record includes floor votes on more than twice as many bills as Dr. Bell. Senator Lombardo achieved a perfect score on the important 1st Amendment category and did incredibly well on the broader Civil Rights category, which contained many important bills. Like most others, his score suffered from anemic performance in the Privacy Rights and Criminal Justice categories.

Swipe left to see ratings

Civil Rights Voting Score

Excellent OK Poor N/A Insufficient # of Votes

SenatorDistScoreCivil RightsCriminal JusticeDue Process1st AmndPrivacy RightsVoting RightsWorker Rights
de la Cruz23405033716733420
Lynch Prata313770245550201850

How We Rank

Score is the cumulative total of the Senator's floor and committee votes that support the ACLU position divided by the total number of votes the Senator could have participated in (committee votes were only counted if the Senator was present for the vote). We then multiplied the score by 100 to create a scale from 1-100. 

Scores for each individual category were tabulated as above, but just for that category of bills. A minimum of 2 votes were required for a Senator to be scored in any one category, else they were given a score of N/A (though their votes in the category still count as part of their overall score).

Senators with scores above 75 are considered "Excellent" defenders of civil liberties, scores between 50 - 74 are "OK", and scores below 50 are considered "Poor". For both individual categories and overall score, the maximum possible score is 100. The lowest possible score is 0.

Bills Scored

(All Senate bills unless otherwise prefixed with "H". Suffixes - A: Sub A, B: Sub B, AM: As Amended)

Civil Rights (2018):
2399, 3010, 2614A,  2678A, 2340, and 2644. (2019): 42, 153, 264, 445, 331, 509, 702, 49, 837, 497, 789, 866A, 231, 818, and 549.

Criminal Justice Rights (2018): 2272, 2603A, 2604AM, 2135A, 2337, 2268A, 2269, 7606, 2230, 2502B, 2279B, 2577B, and 2586A. (2019): 464, 635, 637, 84A, 492, 602, 779, 341, 267, 138A, 443, 576A, 610, 235, 297, and 472.

Due Process Rights (2018): 2433, 2430, 2492A, 2967, 2688AAM, 2421AAM, and 2135A. (2019): 78, 229, 496, and 465.

1st Amendment Rights (2018)2008A and 2581A. (2019): 40 and 1004.

Privacy Rights (2018): 2163, 2530A,  2291, 2442, and 2545A. (2019): H5125B, 152A, 139A, 676, 320, 580, 125, and 234. 

Voting Rights (2018): 2448, 2419, 2267, 2612A,  and 2757. (2019): 342, 323, 339, 631, 477, and 474.

Workers Rights (2018): 2475A and 2660. (2019): 598, 330, and 615.