Stateline Story

Rhode Island Embraces Voter ID

  • July 06, 2011
  • By John Gramlich
The Rhode Island Tea Party is praising the Democratic-led General Assembly and Governor Lincoln Chafee, an independent, for requiring voters in future elections to show identification at the polls. While many states have passed similar legislation this year, Rhode Island is notable because it was Democrats — and not Republicans — who led the controversial effort.

Voter identification bills have been a top priority for the GOP at the state-level this year, as Stateline has noted . Republicans have used commanding new majorities to pass voter ID measures in Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin and elsewhere — in all cases over the objections of Democrats, who contend that such laws will disenfranchise poor and minority voters who may not have proper identification. Republicans say the laws are necessary to prevent election fraud.

While the political lines over voter ID were drawn long ago, the decision by Rhode Island Democrats to press forward with their own legislation shows that the debate is not always a purely partisan one. The Providence Journal notes that Democrats teamed up with Republicans in Rhode Island's House of Representatives before eventually sending the legislation to an independent governor for approval.

It is unclear, however, just how pleased Chafee actually is with the legislation he signed. As The Journal reports, he signed the voter ID bill over the long holiday weekend, but did not announce the signing on his website or by speaking with interested parties. Word of the signing leaked out only after the Rhode Island Tea Party — typically not the biggest ally of Democrats in the legislature — praised lawmakers and Chafee for enacting the new law.

The signing came as an unpleasant shock to several advocacy groups that had been urging the governor to veto the measure. "There is nothing, nothing on the [General Assembly] or governor's website about this," one advocate tells The Journal . "The GA website doesn't even show it having been transmitted to the governor yet. How can they possibly not tell you whether he has signed it or not?''