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State Settles ACLU “Provisional Ballot” Lawsuit; Ballots of Voters Without ID Will Be Counted

Posted: November 02, 2004|Category: Voting Rights Category: Rights of the Poor

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Responding to an ACLU lawsuit filed earlier this morning, the state Board of Elections has 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 since January 1, 2003 but who did not submit an identification document with their application. ACLU volunteer attorney John W. Dineen called the Board’s reversal of position “a vindication of the voting rights of hundreds of Rhode Island residents.”

The ACLU lawsuit had argued that the Board of Elections’ position violated a 2002 federal law known as the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Under HAVA, voters newly-registered 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 suit claimed 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 R.I. Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini began today, a recess was called, at which time the Board of Elections 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 suit had requested. A directive to that effect was delivered this evening to all local Boards of Canvassers.

The suit was filed on behalf of RI 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 have taken place over the past year.

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