Today the Senate Judiciary Committee will be hearing testimony on Senate Bill 2641, which would repeal the Voter ID law. I will be testifying on the bill, and here’s what I’ll be saying:
Outside the Senate Chambers stands a new statue of former Rhode Island Governor Thomas Wilson Dorr. Arguably, next to Roger Williams, no Rhode Islander has done more for the cause of human rights, freedom and democracy. In 1840, a mere 8,621 men voted in the presidential election, because at that time only white male landowners had the right to vote. In response, Dorr lead a rebellion, which was unsuccessful in that he never won a battle, but he did win the war. Due to his efforts, voting rights were expanded and in 1844 12,296 white men were allowed to vote, whether they owned land or not.
Dorr suffered for his actions. He was sentenced to prison, and though he was later released and pardoned, his health was broken and he died at the age of 49. Thomas Wilson Dorr literally gave his life for the cause of enfranchisement.
In 2012, Nate Silver, the statistician who consistently astounds with the accuracy of his election predictions, estimated that the Rhode Island Voter ID law effectively disenfranchised .8% of voters, which translates to 6,704 voters losing their franchise. In essence, this body, the Rhode Island State Senate, in cooperation with the Rhode Island House of Representatives and the signature of Governor Chafee, disenfranchised nearly twice the number of voters Rhode Island hero Thomas Wilson Dorr gave his life to enfranchise.
Every day the Senators in this room have the opportunity to pass that new statue outside the Senate Chambers where, I put it to you, the steely gaze of Thomas Wilson Dorr is harshly judging you from across time. The Voter ID law stands in sharp contrast to the spirit and history of Rhode Island. I strongly urge this body to repeal this law.