Rhode Island Settles ACLU Provisional Ballot Lawsuit

November 1, 2004 12:00 am

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Elections Officials Will Count Ballots Cast By Voters Without ID

PROVIDENCE, RI — Responding to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed earlier this morning, the state Board of Elections today agreed to count all provisional ballots cast by voters who are unable to provide identification at their polling place. The board had previously indicated that it would disqualify all such ballots cast by individuals who had registered to vote by mail after January 1, 2003 but who did not submit an identification document with their application.

“The Board of Elections’ reversal of position is a vindication of the voting rights of hundreds of Rhode Island residents,” said ACLU volunteer attorney John W. Dineen.

The ACLU lawsuit had argued that the Board of Elections’ position violated a 2002 federal law known as the Help America Vote Act. Under HAVA, voters who register by mail are asked to provide identification when they come to the polls. Voters without ID are given a provisional ballot to fill out. However, the ACLU learned last week that, unbeknownst to those voters, the Board of Elections had decided that those ballots would not be counted, even though Rhode Island law contains no requirement that voters, newly registered or otherwise, produce identification on Election Day in order to vote.

The ACLU lawsuit said that the board’s unwritten policy directly violated 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 sought 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.

After oral arguments before Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini began today, a recess was called, at which time the board held an emergency meeting in executive session. At that session, the board reconsidered its position and unanimously voted to count the provisional ballots of voters who do not present ID, as the ACLU had requested. A directive to that effect was delivered this evening to all local Boards of Canvassers.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Rhode Island Parents for Progress, a low-income advocacy organization that registered hundreds of voters this year in housing projects in Pawtucket. The organization noted that the ID requirement would mostly affect low-income residents of poorer voting districts, where significant voter registration drives

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