Impassioned at times, a debate gathered force again at the State House Thursday over the law that requires Rhode Island voters to present forms of identification at elections. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard from supporters of a bill sponsored by Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, that seeks the repeal of the voter ID law and from supporters of a bill by Sen. Harold Metts, D-Providence, who portrayed it as balancing worries over disenfranchised voters and worries over voter fraud. Metts’ bill would add several forms of identification — including some that would not have photos — to what was slated to be allowed for voters in 2014. That includes adding credit cards, public housing cards, documents issued by a government agency, a senior citizens ID, and U.S. citizen naturalization papers. Current law, phased in since 2011, holds that with the 2014 election, photos IDs are slated to be required. “I did my best to make sure that there was a balance to address the concerns of people concerned with disenfranchisement and also those concerned with fraud,” said Metts. He said his proposal includes provisional ballots for someone who does not have an ID.
Paul Caranci, head of programs and policy at Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis’ office, testified in support of Metts’ bill and against the repeal, asserting that Rhode Island’s law “has become a national model for how voter ID laws should be enacted.” He asserted that Mollis had asked for the introduction of the voter ID law “to strengthen the electoral process and restore voter confidence in our electoral system.” He testified that the law was written to ensure no one became disenfranchised and said the program has proven successful, citing what he said was strong turnout at a recent election and a lack of issues of people being turned away from the polls.
Several people, from well-known voices for various organizations to a citizen or two, expressed concerns in the first two hours of testimony Thursday about Metts’ bill and support for repealing the ID law.