A Day Before the Election, ACLU Receives First Voter ID Complaint

Posted: Sep, 08, 2014

The primary election is still a day away, but the ACLU has already received its first complaint about poll workers unlawfully preventing people from voting under the state’s Voter ID law.

Under the law, any person without proper ID is supposed to be given a provisional ballot. If the signature they provide on the ballot is found to match the signature on their voter registration, the ballot is supposed be counted. However, the ACLU received a complaint that a person who went to the Providence Board of Canvassers this morning to cast an emergency ballot, but did not have proper ID, was not given a provisional ballot, but instead was told he was simply unable to vote. A person who happened to witness the incident and was familiar with the law’s requirements immediately talked with a supervisor there. The supervisor agreed to make sure that all staff were made aware of their obligations to provide provisional ballots to voters who did not have one of the accepted forms of identification.

Although the error was resolved for this complainant, the ACLU called the incident a warning sign. Based on similar complaints it received during the 2012 elections, the ACLU has been raising concerns about this very scenario for some time. In fact, last month, the ACLU and eight other organizations wrote the state Board of Elections to object that poll workers were not being given clear enough instructions about their obligation to present provisional ballots to voters without proper ID. (A follow-up to that letter is available here.) This morning’s incident only confirms the legitimacy of the groups’ fears.

ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown said today: “It is critical that both the Board of Elections and the Secretary of State do everything within their power within the next 24 hours to make sure that all poll workers are fully and unequivocally aware of every voter’s right to receive a provisional ballot at the polls when they show up without proper ID. If poll workers in the most populous municipality in the state are misinformed about the law, we can only imagine the amount of misinformation that exists elsewhere. The wrongful turning away of even one voter is completely unacceptable, and the state agencies responsible for the elections process must act quickly to prevent that from happening.”