In Rhode Island, No Legal Challenge to Voter ID Law - Yet

A federal court today struck down a Texas voter ID bill, arguing that the costs of obtaining proper ID to cast a ballot would fall disproportionately on poor blacks and Latinos. 

Texas was among eight states that passed voter ID bills last year, including Rhode Island.

Several of those states are facing legal challenges. Just down the hall from where judges heard arguments in the Texas case, lawyers for the federal government and South Carolina are going head-to-head on the Palmetto State's voter ID law.

Texas and South Carolina, because of their histories of discrimination, are among the states required to get "preclearance" of any voting changes by the Department of Justice.

Rhode Island is not required to get preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. And Steve Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island affiliate of the ACLU, tells me local advocates have no imminent plans for a legal challenge of their own.

Brown says the ACLU and other opponents of the Rhode Island voter ID bill were discussing the possibility of a lawsuit within days of Governor Chafee signing the measure. But there was a consensus that advocates should hold off until they saw how the law was implented.

The US Supreme Court, advocates reasoned, had already upheld a stricter Indiana statute. And the Rhode Island law, considered the most liberal in the nation, might be less vulnerable to challenge than most.

Indeed, as supporters of the law are quick to point out, Rhode Island voters who lack the proper ID can cast a provisional ballot. If their signatures match those on their voter registration cards, their votes will be counted.

In other states, voters without ID can cast provisional ballots, too. But often, they must show up at their local elections office within a short period of time and show ID.

The voter ID fight has played out, largely, on partisan lines. But Rhode Island was an exception - the only state controlled by Democrats to pass a voter ID bil last year. For the inside scoop on how it passed, see my story "Who Passed Voter ID?"

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