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ACLU Files Suit Over Fate of Provisional Ballots

Posted: November 01, 2004|Category: Voting Rights Category: Rights of the Poor

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The ACLU of RI has this morning filed an emergency lawsuit against the state, seeking a court order requiring elections officials to count potentially hundreds of ballots to be cast tomorrow that the Board of Elections plans to reject as invalid. The suit, filed by RI ACLU volunteer attorney John W. Dineen on behalf of RI Parents for Progress, a low-income advocacy organization engaged in voter registration activities, argues that the Board’s position is a violation of voter rights and a 2002 federal law known as the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

The Board has adopted procedures requiring any person who registered to vote by mail since January 1, 2003 and did not submit an identification document with their application to present ID when they vote on Tuesday. Voters without ID will, pursuant to HAVA, be given a provisional ballot to fill out. However, the ACLU learned last week that, unbeknownst to those voters, the Board of Elections has decided that those ballots are simply not going to 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 suit 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 noted 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.  ACLU attorney Dineen said that the Board’s position “creates placebo ballots instead of provisional ballots for hundreds of voters,” and that there are many other procedures at the state’s disposal to address any concerns about voter fraud. According to Heidi Collins, director of Parents of Progress, her group this year signed up hundreds of new voters in Pawtucket – most of them racial minorities – and some are likely to see their votes disqualified unless the Board’s position is overturned.

A hearing on the ACLU’s request is expected to be heard today by Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini.

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