10.29.2012 0

Rhode Island Voter ID Points to Growing Bipartisan Support for Election Integrity Efforts

Voter IDBy Kevin Mooney — When one Democrat accuses another Democrat of rampant voter fraud, it creates a bit of a problem for left leaning media outlets and pressure groups that have been critical of voter identification laws. But it also presents an opportunity for citizen activists and elected officials who are working across party lines to build a national consensus in favor of ballot integrity efforts.

In August, Anthony Gemma, a Rhode Island businessman, circulated sworn statements from anonymous witnesses who claim that elaborate voter fraud schemes have been a part of Rep. David Cicilline’s political campaigns since 2002. That was the year Cicilline was elected mayor of Providence.  Now, he occupies the seat previously held by Rep. Patrick Kennedy.

Gemma has told members of the press that the evidence he has accumulated has been turned over to the Rhode Island State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Although he failed to unseat Rep. Cicilline during the Democratic Primary in September, top figures in both major parties agree that Gemma’s allegations bolster the case for the state’s new voter identification law.

Let the investigations continue, and the let chips fall where they may with regard to current allegations, says Sen. Harold Metts, a Democrat in Providence, RI. But, there is no getting past the fact that there is long history of voter fraud in Rhode Island, he notes, that has eroded public faith in the electoral system.

Sen. Metts was the lead sponsor for the new voter identification law that is now in effect in Rhode Island. While the laws have been controversial in other states, the weight of evidence demonstrates that they are necessary, he said.

“There has been such a concern over disenfranchisement that I think there was a certain tendency for folks to just bury their heads when it came to vote fraud, but that’s not healthy,” Metts observed. “We have to be balanced in our approach so that everyone who is eligible is able to vote and there is no disenfranchisement. But we also need to make sure that no one who is eligible has their vote cancelled out by someone else voting illegally. This has happened to my constituents.”

Since 2011, Rhode Island is the only state with a Democratic legislature to pass a new photo ID requirement in response to voter fraud allegations. The move puts the Ocean State in company with Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The constitutionality of voter photo ID requirements was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2008 Crawford v. Marion County Election Board ruling. Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, South Dakota, and Indiana have had photo ID statues in effect for several years.

“I think Rhode Island can be a model for other states,” Metts said. “It’s possible to have too many restrictions and too many hurdles. But that’s not what we did here in Rhode Island. We’ve taken a gradual incremental approach, and we’re also putting a lot into voter education.”

Rhode Island’s new law was tested for the first time during April’s presidential primary, when voters were asked to show drivers’ licenses, passports, birth certificates, or health club IDs. Voters who did not have the necessary identification were permitted to cast provisional ballots. Beginning in 2014, only a photo ID will be accepted, but the state will provide free IDs to anyone who needs them, and provisional ballots will remain in effect for anyone who lacks an ID on Election Day.

“Some people didn’t realize if you already had a driver’s license or another photo ID than you didn’t need the voter ID card,” Metts said. “It’s only if you didn’t have the other identification. Voter education is a continuing process.”

The latest voter fraud controversy that has beset his own Democratic Party shows how important and how necessary the voter ID has become,” he added.

“Going forward, it will not be so easy for someone motivated to commit voter fraud to just walk in and vote illegally,” he said. “So I do feel vindicated about what has transpired recently, and I think everyone who supported the voter ID, and took criticism for it, should feel vindicated.”

Under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, any changes made to voting laws in certain areas of the country must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The jurisdictions covered under the federal law are all of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia and parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota.

The DOJ moved to block voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas claiming they are in violation of the VRA. Most recently, a federal court ruled in favor of the South Carolina law, but said it could not go into effect until 2013. In August, a three-judge panel in United States District Court for Washington D.C. ruled to strike down the Texas law. But Gov. Rick Perry is now challenging the constitutionality of the VRA’s Section 5 and his appeal will likely be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in the current term. If the high court reaffirms voter ID, as is now widely expected, the VRA will go down.

In Pennsylvania, a state judge has also ruled to uphold that state’s photo ID. In response to an appeal to the state Supreme Court, the judge then issued a preliminary injunction suspending full implementation until 2013.  It was determined that there would not be enough time for eligible voters in need of ID to obtain the necessary documentation in the current election cycle.

Over the long-term, it’s clear that voter identification will become the law of the land. But since liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Project Vote (the former ACORN affiliate)  and the Advancement Project have been able to delay some the laws from going into full effect (with a little help from the Obama DOJ), citizen activism will be crucial.

This is where “True the Vote” comes into play. The grassroots organization based in Houston, Texas was founded in 2009.

True the Vote  is devoted to “mobilizing and training volunteers who are willing to work as election monitors” and “aggressively pursuing fraud reports to ensure prosecution when appropriate.”

“This has grown into a national effort,” Catherine Engelbrecht, president and founder of the True the Vote, explained in a conference call. “It is all about encouraging citizens to participate in our election process. We are working in 30 states and helping to support hundreds of citizens lead groups nationwide. We approach the election process in non-partisan way  and make sure elections are free and fair for everyone- regardless of what side of the aisle you sit on. We just want a free and fair process.”

Back in Rhode Island, Sen. Metts does not find the arguments applied against voter ID particularly persuasive.

“Once again, it depends how you do it, and we’ve settled on a gradual approach,” he said. “We make it as easy as possible for people to get an ID, and they’re going to need an ID for work, and to drive and to get on a plane. Now they say voter ID hurts senior citizens and I get a real kick out of this. We don’t have our Social Security checks mailed anymore. Instead, we have to get direct deposit, and to get the direct deposit at my bank, guess what, I have to have a photo ID.”

Kevin Mooney is a contributing editor to NetRightDaily.com. You can follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinMooneyDC.

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