ACLU of Rhode Island Sues State Over Fate of Provisional Ballots

November 1, 2004 12:00 am

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Election Officials Plan to Illegally Reject Hundreds of Ballots Cast by Voters Without ID, Group Charges

PROVIDENCE–The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today filed an emergency lawsuit against the state challenging a decision by the Board of Elections to reject potentially hundreds of provisional ballots to be cast on Election Day. The lawsuit argues that the Board’s decision violates the 2002 federal law known as the Help America Vote Act.

In accordance with HAVA, the Board of Elections has adopted procedures requiring any person who registered to vote by mail after January 1, 2003 without submitting an identification document to present ID when they vote on Tuesday or cast a provisional ballot. However, the ACLU learned last week that the Board of Elections has decided not to count those provisional ballots, even though Rhode Island law contains no requirement that voters, newly registered or otherwise, produce identification on election day in order to vote.

ACLU of Rhode Island volunteer attorney John W. Dineen, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the low-income advocacy group Parents for Progress, said that the Board’s position “creates placebo ballots instead of provisional ballots for hundreds of voters.”

The ACLU lawsuit argues that the Board’s unwritten policy directly violates HAVA, which contains a “fail safe” system for such voters, allowing their votes to count if they are otherwise eligible to vote under state law. The lawsuit seeks a court order barring the state from disqualifying these ballots unless it is determined that an individual voter is ineligible to vote on grounds unrelated to his or her failure to provide ID at the polling place.

The ACLU also said that the ID requirement would mostly affect people who do not drive – particularly low-income people in poorer voting districts, where significant voter registration drives have taken place over the past year – since a driver’s license is the most common form of ID likely to be carried by a voter.

According to Parents for Progress Director Heidi Collins, the group has helped register hundreds of new voters this year in Pawtucket – most of them racial minorities – and some are likely to see their votes disqualified unless the Board of Election’s position is overturned.

A hearing on the ACLU’s request is expected to take place today before Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini.

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