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Was ALEC behind Rhode Island's Voter ID Law?

My opus on how deep-blue Rhode Island enacted a voter ID bill last year is out today. And one question I got while reporting the story was this: did ALEC play a role?

ALEC, for the unitiated, is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business-backed advocacy group that pairs corporate types with state legislators to draft conservative model legislation for use in State Houses around the country.

The group came under intense scrutiny after the Trayvon Martin case since it had pushed for the kind of "Stand Your Ground" law that was used to justify the Florida shooting. Losing corporate sponsors by the bushel, ALEC dropped its "Stand Your Ground" efforts and another controversial push - for voter ID laws - last month.

But the group's voter ID effort was alive and well last year when the Rhode Island General Assembly passed its bill. And the chief sponsor of that measure was Representative Jon Brien, a conservative Woonsocket Democrat who serves on ALEC's national board of directors. So, was ALEC behind the bill or wasn't it?

After weeks of reporting on the issue, it seems clear to me that ALEC played no significant role in the passage of voter ID here.

It was Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis who drafted the voter ID bill, with assistance from the law firm of Adler, Pollock & Sheehan, not Brien. And the legislation was first filed in the House and Senate several months prior to ALEC's approval of model voter ID legislation in August 2009.

The measures, moreover, bear little resemblance to one another; indeed, the Rhode Island voter ID law is widely considered the most liberal in the country.

But there is an interesting footnote to the story.

The ALEC model seemed to be based on Indiana's voter ID bill, which passed in 2005 and is considered among the strictest in the nation. And in the course of my reporting, I found a 2008 bill filed by Republican State Representative Nicholas Gorham, with Brien as a co-sponsor, that mirrored a key provision of the Indiana law nearly word-for-word. Here's the language from the Indiana legislation:

Sec. 40.5. "Proof of identification" refers to a document that satisfies all the following:
        (1) The document shows the name of the individual to whom the document was issued, and the name conforms to the name in the individual's voter registration record.
        (2) The document shows a photograph of the individual to whom the document was issued.
        (3) The document includes an expiration date, and the document:
            (A) is not expired; or
            (B) expired after the date of the most recent general election.
        (4) The document was issued by the United States or the state of Indiana.

Here's the language from the Rhode Island bill

(8) "Proof of indentity" means any document which satisfies all of the following:

(i) The document shows the name of the individual to whom the document was issued, and the name conforms to the name in the individual's voter registration record.

(ii) The document shows a photograph of the individual to whom the document was issued.

(iii) The document includes an expiration date, and the document:

     (a) is not expired; or

     (b) expired after the date of the most recent general election.

 (iv) The document was issued by the United States or the state of Rhode Island.

To be clear, the Indiana law and this Rhode Island copycat preceded the ALEC model legislation.

And both the Indiana law and the ALEC model that followed included onerous provisions that the 2008 Rhode Island bill did not: namely, those measures require anyone who fails to present an ID at the polls and casts a provisional ballot to then show up at his or her county board of elections on the Monday following the election to show proof of identity.

Say what you will about Rhode Island's voter ID push, but it doesn't appear advocates were ever headed down this road. They probably wouldn't have gotten very far anyway.

 

 

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