The heavily Democratic state of Rhode Island enacted a voter identification law last week that will require a non-photo ID at the polling place starting January 2012, and transitions to a photo ID requirement in 2014. In contrast to the highly partisan battle over voter identification in North Carolina, the measure passed the Rhode Island legislature with support from both parties and was signed by independent governor Lincoln Chafee. From a Reuters report:
“Having reflected a great deal on the issue, I believe that requiring identification at the polling place is a reasonable request to ensure the accuracy and integrity of our elections,” Chafee, an Independent, said in a statement.
“Notably, I spoke with representatives of our state’s minority communities, and I found their concerns about voter fraud and their support for this bill particularly compelling,” he added.
Under the new law, poll workers will ask voters for identification beginning in 2012, and a number of non-photo documents such as a Social Security card or birth certificate will suffice for them to be allowed to vote.
In 2014, however, any identification will need to include a photo. The state will provide free photo identification, and provisional ballots will be made available to anyone without the proper documents.
Republican-controlled legislatures around the country have cited fraud as they push for voter ID bills.
But in Rhode Island, where Democrats control both legislative chambers, the bill was introduced in the Senate by a Democrat and co-sponsored in the House by members of both parties.
The measure had support from members of Rhode Island’s minority community, including state senator Harold Metts, an African-American Democrat who cosponsored the legislation. Metts explained the legislation in a statement released after the bill passed.
“As a minority citizen and a senior citizen I would not support anything that I thought would present obstacles or limit protections, but in this day and age, very few adults lack one of the forms of identification that will be accepted, and the rare person who does can get a free voter ID card from the Secretary of State. While I’m sensitive to the concerns raised, at this point I am more interested in doing the right thing and stopping voter fraud. Hesitation based on potential ramifications of what may or may not happen at the expense of the integrity of the system is no longer an option.” said Metts.
In North Carolina, voter identification opponents claimed HB 351, the “Restore Confidence in Government Act”, which had a photo identification requirement, was a racially motivated attempt by Republicans to disenfranchise poor, elderly, and minority Democrats. Despite polling showing large majorities of North Carolinians were in favor of the requirement, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed the legislation, saying “The bill has nothing to with voter fraud and everything to do with voter suppression.”
Of course, it would be hard to claim that Rhode Island Democrats and African-American legislators were trying to disenfranchise members of their own party and community. One must wonder: Why are North Carolina Democrats unconcerned about voting fraud?