Rhode Island governor signs voter ID bill

BOSTON (Reuters) - Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed into law a bill that would require voters to show identification at the polls in 2012, with a photo required before casting a ballot in 2014, his office announced on Wednesday.

“Having reflected a great deal on the issue, I believe that requiring identification at the polling place is a reasonable request to ensure the accuracy and integrity of our elections,” Chafee, an Independent, said in a statement.

“Notably, I spoke with representatives of our state’s minority communities, and I found their concerns about voter fraud and their support for this bill particularly compelling,” he added.

Under the new law, poll workers will ask voters for identification beginning in 2012, and a number of non-photo documents such as a Social Security card or birth certificate will suffice for them to be allowed to vote.

In 2014, however, any identification will need to include a photo. The state will provide free photo identification, and provisional ballots will be made available to anyone without the proper documents.

Republican-controlled legislatures around the country have cited fraud as they push for voter ID bills.

But in Rhode Island, where Democrats control both legislative chambers, the bill was introduced in the Senate by a Democrat and co-sponsored in the House by members of both parties.

“As a minority citizen and a senior citizen I would not support anything that I thought would present obstacles or limit protections,” state Senator Harold Metts, a Democrat, said in a statement after the bill passed.

Democratic governors in at least five states -- North Carolina, Montana, Missouri, Minnesota and New Hampshire -- have vetoed voter ID bills this year.

New Hampshire Governor John Lynch said the version passed in that state was the “most restrictive” in the nation and could disenfranchise certain voters such as seniors, students, disabled voters and those who do not drive.

Fourteen other states currently ask voters to show photo identification at the polls or have passed laws to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-nine states in all require voters to show ID before casting a ballot.

Reporting by Lauren Keiper, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune