Eliminating the master lever in Rhode Island elections is picking up steam in the General Assembly. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says getting rid of straight party voting may be much ado about not much. The Rhode Island House of Representatives recently voted unanimously to end the so-called master lever, a relic of the state’s urban political machine past. A conga line of statewide elected politicians, from Gov. Lincoln Chafee down to Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, support this change. Good government groups and Rhode Island’s beleaguered Republican Party have been campaigning vigorously to curb straight party ballots. And many in the media, especially the editorial pages of the Providence Journal, have been on a crusade to scuttle it. The master level isn’t even a lever anymore. It was a dubbed the master lever when voters cast ballots in those big boxy metal voting machines that were enclosed in a thick curtain to maintain privacy. With one flick of a lever at the top of the machine, a voter could cast a straight party ticket, without having to click the levers next to the names of each individual candidate. When the state junked the machines for paper ballots that were counted with supermarket-style scanners, straight party voting survived as a single box at the top of the ballot. Thus, a voter who wanted to vote an all Republican or Democratic ticket could do so by drawing a line connecting one box, which eliminates the need to go all the way down the ballot and checking each individual box next to a candidate name.
Saying it would eliminate long lines like those many voters stood in for hours in November, state Rep. Deborah Ruggiero has proposed a bill that would allow Rhode Islanders to cast their votes over the course of about three weeks before Election Day. Ruggiero has introduced legislatio n that would allow early voting in Rhode Island beginning the third Thursday before a primary, general or special election. Registered voters would be able to cast their ballot in person at designated locations from that Thursday until the Friday before the scheduled election. Early voting would take place on weekdays, with hours that begin no later than 9 a.m. and end no earlier than 4:30 p.m. The bill has the backing of Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
Two months ago Hans von Spakovsky of the conservative Heritage Foundation, de facto apologist for a new wave of conservative-inspired voter ID laws, appeared on PBSNewsHour to defend the cause. The laws, passed in eight states last year, are widely viewed as a Republican ploy to disenfranchise minorities and older voters who are less likely to have the photo identification the measures require at the polls. But von Spakovsky, flashing a blue tie and tight smile, brushed aside criticism with what has become a standard talking point on the right. “While many Republican legislatures have passed these kind of requirements,” he said, “we know that in Rhode Island, Democrats passed it.” Rhode Island is, indeed, the curious exception to the rule: the only state with a Democratic legislature and left-leaning governor to approve a voter ID law last year. And with the measure set to face its first big test in this fall’s elections, civil rights activists and Democratic operatives — local and national — are still scratching their heads: how is it that one of the bluest states in the nation enacted a law so red?
In elections past, Rhode Island has not required photo identification for a ballot to be counted. However, with the passage of a new law the state has at least superficially joined the ranks of states which have approved legislation that will hamper the voting rights of its most vulnerable citizens. Yet the truth may not be so simple. Rhode Island’s law is less restrictive and more benign than legislation passed by other states which may explain the unique politics behind the passage of RI’s new photo identification bill.
The law will be implemented in two stages. “The first stage will require non-photo ID beginning Jan. 1, 2012. The second stage will require photo ID beginning Jan. 1, 2014.” For the upcoming 2012 election, voters are able to vote by establishing their identity through possession of forms of ID that do not have their photo, “including without limitation”: a birth certificate, social security card, or government-issued medical card. The language “without limitation” can reasonably be construed as meaning that “any current photo identification that includes the name and photograph of the voter will be accepted.”
Over the last several years, the debate about voter ID, especially requirements that voters show photo identification as a condition of casting a ballot, has become so predictable as to seem almost routine.
ID proponents – usually Republicans – argue that the spectre of voter fraud demands safeguards like ID to protect the sanctity of the ballot box, while opponents – usually Democrats – see ID requirements as barriers to the polls and thus vow to fight them in the name of combating disenfranchisement.
Indeed, in recent years the best predictor of whether voter ID would advance in a given state was whether or not Republicans held legislative majorities and the governorship. Recently, however, the headlines have brought new twists that suggest that the voter ID debate is no longer the predictable partisan storyline we have all come to know – if not love.
Should voters be required to show photo identification at the polls? For years, the question has amounted to a demarcation line between Republicans and Democrats.
The 2011 legislative year was shaping up to be no different. Republicans seized on their sweeping electoral victories last November by enacting photo ID laws in Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, arguing that tougher rules are necessary to fight election fraud. Democratic governors in five other states — Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina — vetoed similar bills that their Republican legislatures passed, calling them an unfair burden on disadvantaged voters, chiefly minorities and senior citizens, who may not have driver’s licenses or other forms of government-issued ID. Behind the policy dispute are important political calculations, since Democrats claim that their supporters would be most of the people turned aside at the polls and that whole elections could hang in the balance.
Fifteen minority, civil-rights, open government and social-service organizations have sent Governor Chafee a letter criticizing his decision to sign voter-ID legislation into law. The new law requires voters to present photo ID to vote, a law that the letter’s senders called “a significant and shameful step backward in the fight for equality at the voting booth.”
The letter also challenges Chafee’s claim that he spoke “with representatives of our state’s minority communities,” and “found their concerns about voter fraud and their support for this bill particularly compelling.”
“With respect, we would appreciate learning exactly who these representatives of minority communities you talked to are. None of our groups, representing a wide array of minority community constituencies in Rhode Island, has ever expressed support for this bill,” the letter states. “Further, to our knowledge, not one organization representing minority communities testified in support of this bill at either the House or Senate committee hearings.”
Rhode Island: Some liberals, Democrats stunned by passage of Rhode Island voter ID | The Providence Journal
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.
Governor Chafee, in a statement Wednesday, said a new requirement mandating Rhode Islanders to show some form of identification before voting is a “reasonable request” to ensure the “accuracy and integrity” of state and local elections.
He said concerns about voter fraud raised by the state’s “minority communities” were “particularly compelling” as he weighed whether to allow the legislation, which passed the Democrat-controlled state General Assembly, to become law.
“One of our most cherished rights as Americans is the right to vote,” Chafee, an independent, said. “Throughout our nation’s history, we have fought to ensure that no citizen be denied that right. Similarly, we have also worked to maintain confidence in our elections by enacting appropriate safeguards to prevent voter intimidation and fraud.”
Rhode Island’s Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the latest photo ID legislation into law on Saturday, adding Rhode Island to the onslaught of restrictive voting policies.
Under the new law, poll workers will ask voters for identification beginning in 2012, but a number of non-photo documents such as a Social Security card, debit card, or birth certificate will suffice for identification. In 2014, however, all identification will need to include a photo. All college, Rhode Island and federally issued IDs will be accepted under the new law. The state will provide free photo ID starting in 2012.
While the Rhode Island Tea Party is praising the Democratic-led General Assembly and Republican-turned-independent Governor Chafee for requiring voters in future elections to show identification at the polls, opponents were taken aback by the bipartisan support of the measure. The novel push by Democrats in Rhode Island came in the wake of Democratic governors in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Missouri, Montana and Minnesota all vetoing similar legislation for fear of disenfranchising student, elderly and minority voters.
The Rhode Island Tea Party is praising the Democratic-led General Assembly and Governor Lincoln Chafee, an independent, for requiring voters in future elections to show identification at the polls. While many states have passed similar legislation this year, Rhode Island is notable because it was Democrats — and not Republicans — who led the controversial effort.
… While the political lines over voter ID were drawn long ago, the decision by Rhode Island Democrats to press forward with their own legislation shows that the debate is not always a purely partisan one. The Providence Journal notes that Democrats teamed up with Republicans in Rhode Island’s House of Representatives before eventually sending the legislation to an independent governor for approval.
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.
Rhode Island: Rhode Island Tea Party lauds Chafee for signing voter-ID bill | The Providence Journal
The Rhode Island Tea Party is cheering Governor Chafee for having signed legislation his office did not acknowledge he had signed, on Saturday, until mid-afternoon Tuesday.
In the absence of an earlier acknowledgment, the advocacy group Ocean State Action vehemently urged the governor to veto the so-called “voter identification” bill that, in future elections, will require voters to provide proof of their identity at the polls.
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.
After lengthy and at times acrimonious debate Thursday, the Rhode Island House of Representatives sent to Gov. Lincoln Chafee a bill that would require voters to show identification at the polls starting next year.
A driver’s license, a passport, military ID or a voter identification card are among the acceptable forms of identification under the legislation. The bill would require the state to provide free voter identification cards. Until 2014, voters could also use a birth certificate, Social Security card or Medicare card.