Rhode Island voter identification laws implemented this year faced their first major test Tuesday as voters turned out across the state to cast their ballots in the general election. The ID laws require voters to present some sort of identification, such as a license or utility bill, at their local polling place.
In Providence, long lines seemed to be the main concern for most voters.
Lines at Hope High School in the morning wrapped around the gym and went out into the hall. The wait was approximately 20 minutes at 4:30 p.m., but a poll worker told The Herald he expected it to get longer between 5 and 6:30 p.m as people got off from work.
Providence resident and Rhode Island College Professor Quenby Hughes said the ID laws did not seem to affect efficiency during primary voting, but she added that the general election this time around was "a different scene."
Summit Commons, where the driveway was lined with canvassers, had lines out the door in the evening with post-work voters braving the cold to cast their ballots.
Providence resident Ben Walker said he had been waiting about 15 minutes and that lines were moving, "but slowly."
One poll worker at Hope High School, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Herald that the new ID laws had decreased efficiency in voting because of the extra step.
Herman Vandenburgh, professor emeritus of the department of pathology and laboratory medicine, was at Hope High School voting with his wife. He suggested that a "national, Social Security picture ID would be a good idea" in response to voter ID laws.
Voter Scott Sperling did not find out about the voter ID law until he was searching for his polling place yesterday.
"If it causes disparity in people's ability to vote, then it's a problem," he said, adding that he believes when photo IDs are required in 2014, it could create a gap between upper-and lower-class voters.
At William D'Abate Elementary School in the West Side, lines were not an issue. Poll moderator Diane Hardy said they had only seen about 70 voters through the afternoon and that they had not had any issues with the new identification laws.
The Providence Journal reported that 30 minutes before polls were set to close at Juanita Sanchez Complex, 600 voters were still in line and the Providence Board of Canvassers then decided to double the number of poll workers. The last voter, who had been waiting several hours to vote, cast his ballot just after 9 p.m., they reported. The Board of Canvassers and the Mayor's Office were not available for comment at press time. Police were also brought in to manage the scene, the Journal reported.
Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union, said they received numerous complaints from across the state throughout the day. Apart from complaints about long lines and broken machines, he said some voters were unaware of their right to fill out provisional ballots if they were not carrying a form of identification.
He said voters at Nathan Bishop Middle School and Summit Commons in Providence both reported long lines. At one point in the day, three voting machines in Mount Pleasant were broken, he said.
Steven Brown attributed the chaos to a combination of the new ID laws and shorter voting hours. Rhode Island polling places closed at 8 p.m.
"It's almost as if elected officials were asking for this kind of chaos," he said.
In West Warwick and South Kingstown, election day got off to a slow start due to a problem with ballot delivery that delayed early morning voters.
Poll workers at Elks Lodge opened sealed boxes of ballots to discover that they had been sent Woonsocket ballots, according to Ray Lambert, chairman of the board of canvassers in West Warwick.
The Rhode Island Board of Elections sent correct ballots within the hour, and Lambert said the poll workers were not told what caused the mix-up.
On campus, voting at Salomon Hall was generally calm with lines moving quickly, though some students cited confusion about day-of registration and said they did not realize they had to go to the Dunkin' Donuts Center to register.
Most voters The Herald spoke with were aware of the ID requirement before entering the polling place, though many said they did not know photo IDs would be required in 2014.
Gabe Gonzalez '12.5 registered to vote in Rhode Island after working on a local campaign two years ago. He said he had meant to change his registration to his native Florida but missed the deadline. He expressed concern that his out-of-state ID would not be accepted, but he did not have any issues voting.
A poll worker who identified herself as Susan said she was not forced to turn away any voters because of the ID requirement, adding that she had not observed any significant changes in efficiency.
At all of the polling places The Herald visited, both general signs and lists of acceptable forms of ID were posted in English and Spanish.
- With additional reporting by Molly Schulson, Katie Cusumano, Morgan Johnson, Maddie Berg, Gabrielle Dee and Maddie Medina