Governor Chafee, in a statement Wednesday, said a new requirement mandating Rhode Islanders to show some form of identification before voting is a “reasonable request” to ensure the “accuracy and integrity” of state and local elections.
He said concerns about voter fraud raised by the state’s “minority communities” were “particularly compelling” as he weighed whether to allow the legislation, which passed the Democrat-controlled state General Assembly, to become law.
“One of our most cherished rights as Americans is the right to vote,” Chafee, an independent, said. “Throughout our nation’s history, we have fought to ensure that no citizen be denied that right. Similarly, we have also worked to maintain confidence in our elections by enacting appropriate safeguards to prevent voter intimidation and fraud.”
The remarks were the governor’s first since quietly signing the controversial measure into law over the July 4 weekend.
Chafee, who is currently sailing with his wife and will return to work Saturday, confirmed late Tuesday afternoon that he had signed the legislation. Chafee’s announcement came nearly seven hours after the Rhode Island Tea Party had already announced its signing.
The legislation, which takes effect in 2012 and calls for a photo identification starting in 2014, was strongly opposed by community and civil-rights organizations, including the NAACP, which argued that it would disenfranchise “thousands of voters,” particularly minority, elderly and disabled residents.
Out of the 20 states that considered new legislation to enforce voter ID this year, Rhode Island is the only state with a Democratic-controlled legislature to have passed the measure, according to data from the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures.
Nationally, voter identification served as a dividing line between the two major political parties.
Indeed, new voter-ID initiatives failed outright in five states where Democrats control the legislature, including California, Maryland and Nevada, according to NCSL data. And Democratic governors in Minnesota, New Hampshire and North Carolina vetoed new voter-ID laws passed by Republican-controlled legislatures.
In contrast, Rhode Island’s voter-ID effort was bipartisan.