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.
Rhode Island: Senate committee hears pros, cons of Rhode Island voter ID law | The Providence Journal
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.
Rhode Island Secretary of State Ralph Mollis said the voter fraud allegations made by congressional candidate Anthony Gemma were “concerning” and questioned whether the candidate should have held a news conference to present his findings. “You have someone going on for a half hour with allegations and not much to back it up,” said Ralph Mollis. “You want people to participate and to have confidence in the process.” On Wednesday Anthony Gemma leveled stunning allegations of voter fraud against his Democratic rival, incumbent Congressman David Cicilline. Those allegations included coaxing people to vote, getting individuals to cast multiple ballots at multiple polling places, teaching underage individuals how to vote fraudulently, abusing the absentee ballot system, using dead voters’ names to cast ballots, tampering with electronic voting machines and registering to vote at businesses and vacant lots. Gemma claimed the fraud took place in Providence between 2002 and 2010.
Rhode Island voters casting a ballot in the state’s presidential primary Tuesday will be asked to show identification in what is the first statewide test of a new voter ID law. Turnout is expected to be light as the Republican primary race winds down and President Barack Obama stands unchallenged on his party’s primary ballot. Most polling places will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m., an hour earlier than in past elections. Lawmakers voted last year to close the polls earlier to speed up election results and give election workers a break. “People who regularly vote later in the day should plan accordingly,” said Chris Barnett, a spokesman for Democratic Secretary of State Ralph Mollis.
Janice Brady votes every chance she gets, and thinks a new Rhode Island law asking voters to show identification at the polls will protect the integrity of the state’s elections. That law will have its first statewide test on Tuesday, when Rhode Island holds its presidential primary. So Brady, 69, lined up last week with 25 other residents at the Charlesgate apartments in Providence to get a new voter ID. “It sounds like a good idea to me,” said Brady, who said she has no current driver’s license or other acceptable ID. “I don’t mind showing it.” Voters will be asked to present identification such as a driver’s license, U.S. passport, military ID, Social Security card, birth certificate or even a utility bill or health club ID. Voters who fail to present the necessary identification will only be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, which must be approved by election officials before being counted. Starting in 2014, only identification with a photo will be accepted.
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.
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.
It’s not easy to rock the vote in Rhode Island. That’s according to a new scorecard from Rock the Vote that ranks Rhode Island’s voting system 10th-lowest based on 12 metrics related to voter registration; casting a ballot; and young voter participation.
Rhode Island scored a 30%, better than neighboring Connecticut (20%) and Massachusetts (28%). The top state was Washington at 68%; the worst were South Carolina and Virginia, both at 18%.
I asked Secretary of State Ralph Mollis for his reaction, and he sent along this statement highlighting his office’s efforts on these fronts:
Rhode Island: Military Voting Bill from Secretary of State Mollis Set for Rhode Island House Vote Tuesday | RI.gov
This Tuesday, the state House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on legislation from Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis that would change Rhode Island’s presidential primary calendar in order to ensure that military voters and others living overseas get their ballots faster.
The legislation is in response to the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which requires states to mail ballots to overseas voters at least 45 days prior to an election.