When a voter ID bill passed in Rhode Island last week, longtime opponents were stunned. How could this happen in one of the country’s most Democratic and liberal states? Why did Democratic leaders and black legislators support it? And why did Governor Chafee sign it?
Some say black politicians were trying to protect themselves from Hispanics’ growing political power — two longtime black legislators were defeated by Hispanics in the 2010 elections. Some cite illegal immigration as a driving force. Some say voter ID is simply essential.
Whatever the reason, people are still seething a week later. That includes many within the minority community, who chide Chafee for saying he was compelled by concerns from the “minority community” about voter fraud.
“Many organizations are deeply troubled by the governor’s erroneous comments that the legislation had the support of the minority community. In fact, there is not one organization from the minority community that supported this bill,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Rather, groups like the NAACP and the R.I. Commission for Human Rights were among the strongest opponents of the legislation. In addition, groups that represent other vulnerable minority populations — such as the homeless, the poor and people with disabilities — also uniformly objected to the legislation and its potential impact on the right to vote.”
Brown said organizations are circulating a letter “expressing their concern about the governor’s stated justification for signing the bill.”
This year, voter-ID legislation was backed by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, including two prominent black lawmakers: House Speaker Gordon D. Fox and Sen. Harold M. Metts. Sen. Juan M. Pichardo, the first Latino elected to a Rhode Island Senate seat and the first Dominican-American elected to a state senate seat in the country, also supported it. Fox, Metts and Pichardo are Providence Democrats.