The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island is leading a drive to educate eligible voters on the state’s new voter ID law in time for the general election, after errors made in the law’s implementation during the Sept. 9 primary led to voter disenfranchisement, said Hillary Davis, RIACLU policy associate. As of Jan. 1, 2014, the voter ID law requires people to show photo identification in order to vote. In the past, state requirements had called for either photo ID, bank statements or government-issued documents. Voters who do not have a valid photo ID can either cast a provisional ballot or obtain a free voter ID upon request. Votes submitted using these provisional ballots are counted only after signatures are matched with voter registration records. RIACLU poll watchers positioned at various polling sites throughout the state on primary day noted cases in which poll workers mistakenly dismissed voters due to misunderstandings about the new policy, Davis said.
Poll watchers witnessed voters being sent away for lack of photo ID without being offered a provisional ballot or told by precinct officials that the information on their ID did not match Rhode Island Board of Elections records, Davis said. These implementation errors were also present in 2012 statewide elections — when the new voting law was first implemented, but with its less restrictive requirements — but were absent prior to the passage of the voter ID law, she added.
Robert Kando, executive director of the Board of Elections, said the RIACLU is the only organization to formally issue complaints to the Board of Elections regarding ID legislation. During the primary, 228 people submitted provisional ballots out of the 158,000 who voted. Ten of those provisional ballots were disqualified, he added. “That is as close to perfect as you’re going to get,” given that this election cycle is the board’s first time operating under the more stringent requirements, Kando said.
Though the RIACLU has attempted to form substantive partnerships with the state government, officials at the Board of Elections and the Secretary of State’s office have not been responsive, Davis said. In response, the RIACLU’s goals to improve the training of poll workers and freeze the voter ID law at non-photo ID status have so far been unattainable, Davis said.