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Few reports of problems with RI's new voter ID law

By David Klepper
Associated Press / April 24, 2012
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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Rhode Island's new voter ID law posed few problems at polling places during the state's presidential primary, election officials said Tuesday.

Fewer than 25 voters lacked the necessary identification and were allowed to cast provisional ballots, according to a survey of polling places in 25 cities and towns conducted by Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, a Democrat.

"The rollout of voter identification went as smoothly as we could have hoped," Mollis spokesman Chris Barnett said.

The new law was passed last year by lawmakers who said it will prevent voter fraud. But critics of the new law said problems with voter identification are more likely to appear in November, when many more voters turn out.

Tuesday's primary marked the first time voters statewide were asked to show a driver's license, passport, birth certificate or even a health club ID. Those who lack the necessary identification can cast provisional ballots, which must be approved by election officials before being counted.

Starting in 2014, only identification with a photo will be accepted.

Stephen Garvey happily showed his ID Tuesday night before voting at his East Greenwich polling place.

"It's much ado about nothing," he said of concerns that some voters would lack the right documents. "It's going to stop people from packing the ballot box."

The new law was passed over objections from groups like the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union who said there's no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Rhode Island. Steven Brown, executive director of the RI ACLU said voters who are elderly, disabled, poor or homeless are less likely to have the right ID.

"I don't think this election will give a good sense of how voter ID is actually going to work," he said. "There just aren't enough people voting to see how it plays out."

Election officials said a low-turnout election like Tuesday's primary was an ideal time to implement the new law. With only a trickle of voters at most polling stations, voters and poll workers had the time to resolve whatever problems might pop up, according to Robert Kando, executive director of the Rhode Island Board of Elections.

Maria Bell, a worker at a polling place in Pawtucket, said voters told her they like the new law.

"We had one guy show up who showed us 10 IDs," she said. "People don't mind at all. This should have been done years ago."

The new voter ID law had its first test earlier this month in North Kingstown, which held a special election on a school bond referendum. Of the 2,000 voters who showed up, three did not have the right identification, according to Mollis' office. Those three voters cast provisional ballots which were later counted after officials confirmed their signatures.

In the weeks before Tuesday's primary, Mollis' office handed out hundreds of free voter IDs at senior centers, homeless shelters and community centers around the state. Barnett said the effort will continue through the fall election.

Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut also held primaries Tuesday, and Pennsylvania also tested out a new voter ID law.

Thirty states now plan to require voters to show some form of identification at the polls in this November's election, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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