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About Secretary Of State Nellie M. Gorbea

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea made history when she was sworn in on January 6, 2015, becoming the first Hispanic elected to statewide office in New England. A proven leader who is taking on some of the toughest issues and getting results, she was re-elected to serve a second term in office on November 6, 2018. Secretary Gorbea believes government should work for people. As Secretary of State she has promoted increased civic engagement and government accessibility.

In 2017, she worked to pass automated voter registration, making Rhode Island the ninth state in the country to do so. She also improved Rhode Island's elections infrastructure by implementing online voter registration and securing funding for modern voting technologies like electronic poll books. She has positioned the state as a national leader in elections cybersecurity. Her work to increase voter engagement, especially among new and young voters, is already seeing results. Rhode Island saw a 64 percent increase from 2014 to 2018 in the number of voters ages 18-20 voting in the general election.

Understanding the importance of preserving and highlighting Rhode Island's rich and diverse history, Secretary Gorbea has initiated the development of a new State Archives to help Rhode Islanders understand and appreciate their state's great history. She has also developed civics and history resources for teachers to use in the classroom, including collections of primary source archival documents, a Rhode Island historical timeline, and infographics about how government works in Rhode Island. These efforts are complemented by experiential learning offerings such as the High School Elections program, which offers schools the opportunity to hold their student government elections with real ballots and voting machines.

In 2018, Secretary Gorbea worked to modernize Rhode Island's notary public laws to allow for electronic notarizations for the first time in Rhode Island. Her legislation also afforded more protections for consumers. She launched a new online Business Assistant to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start businesses in the state and continues to streamline processes in the Business Services Division.

In 2016, Secretary Gorbea ushered in tough legislation to crack down on violations of lobbying rules and make Rhode Island's lobbying registration system a model for the nation.

Originally from Puerto Rico, Gorbea is a graduate of Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs and holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. She lives in North Kingstown with her three children.

About The Department Of State

Our Vision

The Rhode Island Department of State is a modern gateway connecting Rhode Islanders and their government.

Our Mission

The Rhode Island Department of State engages and empowers all Rhode Islanders by making government more accessible and transparent, encouraging civic pride, enhancing commerce and ensuring that elections are fair, fast and accurate.

Duties of the Secretary of State

The Secretary of State is the state’s third ranking elected official, following the Governor and Lt. Governor. State law gives the Secretary of State many different duties. As Rhode Island’s chief elections officer, the Secretary of State registers voters, prepares ballots, certifies election results and administers oaths of office. The Secretary of State also works with companies registered to do business in Rhode Island – more than 70,000 in all. State laws and other official acts, such as issuing bonds, must be signed by the Secretary of State in order to make them official. The Secretary of State is also charged with regulating lobbying activity in the Executive and Legislative branches of state government. In addition, the Secretary of State also processes, preserves and gives the public access to hundreds of thousands of historic documents and public records.


The Office of the Secretary of State existed before Rhode Island became a state. The first office-holder, William Aspinwall, served from 1637-38, just one year after the colony was founded. Over the years, the title changed General Recorder to Secretary of the Colony until it finally become Secretary of State in 1776. The term of office changed over the years, too. The Secretary of State served just one year at a time from 1637 until 1912, when a Constitutional amendment set the term at two years. In 1994, another Constitutional amendment changed the term to four years. Until 1663, the Secretary of State was appointed by the legislature, but now is elected by popular vote. The Secretary of State may serve only two consecutive terms before having to leave office for at least one term. If the Office of Secretary of State becomes vacant, the General Assembly appoints a replacement to serve for the remainder of the term. In order to serve as Secretary of State, you must be at least 18 years old, a registered voter, a resident of Rhode Island for at least 30 days and a U.S. citizen.