The fight over Rhode Island’s new voter identification law continued for three days after Governor Chafee quietly signed the legislation, with opponents saying they were led by the governor’s office to believe they still had a fighting chance.
A week earlier, Democratic North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a voter-ID bill passed by her state’s Republican-controlled legislature, saying it would “unnecessarily and unfairly disenfranchise many eligible and legitimate voters.”
But there was no such opposition from Chafee in Rhode Island, where Democrats overwhelmingly control the House and Senate. Democratic House Speaker Gordon D. Fox was one of the co-sponsors of the new voter-identification law, along with Democrat Jon Brien, of Woonsocket, and Republicans Joseph Trillo, of Warwick, and Doreen Costa, of North Kingstown. The Senate version was sponsored by Sen. Harold Metts, a Providence Democrat.
Chafee has not yet spelled out his reasons for signing the legislation. Starting in 2012, voters will have to show some form of identification. By 2014, they will have to show a valid photo ID, or cast provisional ballots that will only count if their signatures match their voter registration cards.
The secretary of state’s office will begin issuing free identification cards next year to people who need them.
At 6:02 a.m. on Tuesday, the Rhode Island Tea Party cheered passage of the legislation, and Chafee for signing it, nearly seven hours before the governor’s office responded to inquiries about whether he had done so.
From the Tea Party came this statement: “The members of the RI Tea Party thank the bipartisan effort of the House of Representatives and members of the Senate who supported the passage of VOTER ID … It provides that first step toward freedom from the manipulation of votes meant to benefit politicians and special-interest agendas, particularly in our urban areas.”
But in the vacuum of information surrounding the governor’s actions, the advocacy group Ocean State Action tried to rally its troops for one last assault on the measure.
“From Ocean State Action came this statement: “On the last day of the session, after an hour and a half of debate and, against the strong objections of progressive legislators, the General Assembly passed a voter-identification bill that will disenfranchise low-income voters, communities of color, the elderly and students across the State of Rhode Island.