Rick links to an excellent Providence Phoenix article on the Rhode Island voter ID law. It’s a great in-depth look at the political calculus. But the lede poses a question — “how is it that one of the bluest states in the nation enacted a law so red?” — that may set the piece in a misleading light. The question seems to presume that Rhode Island’s new law is the same as the restrictive laws recently passed in, say, Kansas or Tennessee or Texas or Wisconsin. It’s not. As the article itself notes (buried in the political who-dun-it), Rhode Island not only phases its requirement in over several years, but also allows eligible voters without one of the specified photo ID cards to vote a ballot that will count. In Rhode Island — as in Florida — voters without photo ID vote a provisional ballot, and if there’s no other reason to think the ballot is invalid (including a signature match to the registration form), the ballot counts.
Not so with most of the other new ID rules. In those other states, voters without one of the specified photo IDs get the placebo of a near-useless provisional ballot — because the provisional ballot doesn’t count unless you show the same ID you weren’t able to bring to the polls. That distinction amounts to a meaningful difference. Legitimate voters in Rhode Island should still be able to cast valid ballots. And that should be considered a significant part of the context in assessing why the legislators there voted as they did.