Voter ID law remains disputed as Rhode Island prepares to issue voter IDs
A new chapter in Rhode Island political history is set to start Tuesday, when Secretary of State Ralph Mollis’ office will begin issuing identification cards to confirm the identity of voters who lack a driver’s license, passport, or other recognized forms of ID. Eligible voters will be able to obtain the free cards at the SOS’ Elections office at 148 River St., Providence.
Mollis calls Rhode Island’s new law “a national model,” and he says it won’t make it more difficult for minorities or other voters to cast their ballots:
Not only do we have an aggressive public outreach program to provide free IDs to those who don’t have them, but on election day not one voter will be turned away. As a result of the provisional ballot language that we put in our legislation, if someone either does not have the ID, forgets the ID, or just doesn’t wish to bring an ID, they can vote by provisional ballot.
And once we compare the signatures, that vote does count. So not one voter will be disenfranchised on any election day in Rhode Island because of the voter ID law, and I think that makes it a national model.
Mollis encourages people with concerns about the new law, after reviewing the relevant part of his office’s Web site, to call his Elections Division at 222-2357. “We want to work with people to make sure that they are very comfortable, come primary day and Election Day, with this new and exciting law,” he says.
For 2012, Mollis put the cost of implementing the new law in the ballpark of $150,000.
Immigration lawyer Roberto Gonzalez believes the new voter ID law will make it more difficult for minority and elderly voters to cast ballots, particularly Latinos who have trouble getting documents from other countries. The net effect, he believes, will be an increase in people who won’t bother to vote.
Gonzalez says many Latinos are disappointed that Governor Chafee signed the voter ID bill into law, and that it was supported by such lawmakers as Representative Anstasia Williams and Senator Harold Metts, both of Providence:
They based their support on some perceived fraud that no one has been able to establish actually existing. So based on some phantom problem, we now are implementing a procedure that number one, is going to be costly to the state, and second, is going to discourage people from voting. So yeah, there’s a lot of discontent in the Latino community about this, as there is in the black community.
Steve Brown, executive director of the RI chapter of the ACLU, says it’s too early to say whether there will be a legal challenge to the new voter ID law. He says that’s because a court challenge would have to be based on the implementation of the law.
Whether there will be a challenge, he says, “will depend on how bad we find it is.”
The US Justice Department last week blocked a new voter ID law in South Carolina, saying it would make it harder for minorites to vote. (Brown says Southern states need to receive initial Justice Department approval, due to that region’s history of barring voting by minorities.)