But Chafee is a mercurial sort — an independent who's made his share of unexpected decisions. And on July 1, the day after the General Assembly approved the measure, it was the proponents who were ushered in to see the governor first: Brien, Caranci from the Secretary of State's office, and the two minority legislators who'd championed the bill, Metts and Williams.
Williams's stories of her own stolen vote and of the double-dipping cutie were tantalizing enough. But her signature tale was more complicated, more opaque, and more affecting.
On a recent afternoon in her basement office at the State House, she spooled it out for me: a couple of years ago, she says, an illegal immigrant named her as his mother-in-law and her daughter as his wife on a fraudulent passport application.
Federal agents investigated, she says, and showed her a picture of the suspected fraudster. The representative says she confronted him on the street sometime later and learned he was offered a passport — use Williams' name, his handlers told him, to grease the skids — in exchange for impersonating a voter and convincing others to do the same.
Williams says her own investigation of the matter pointed to a larger world of recruiters paid to identify registered voters who cast ballots infrequently and to send impersonators in their place. She implies that this broader network of recruiters used her name improperly, too, but she declines to offer details, saying it might endanger her family.
The saga has clearly taken a toll. "I shred everything," she says, her voice cracking, her eyes welling. "I'm super paranoid since this incident. My bank accounts have been closed — shut down — they want[ed] to know who I was."
She told some version of this story to the governor, she says, explaining the paranoia that had gripped her life, the struggle her family had gone through. "He stopped me and said, 'I had enough,' " she recalls.
"He was on it," Williams says. "He was listening."
Chafee would later say, in a statement explaining his signature on the bill, that he found the concerns raised by "minority communities . . . particularly compelling" — a justification that opponents dismissed as absurd, given the opposition of groups like the NAACP.
But as Brien left the governor's office, he was far from convinced that Chafee was on his side. The governor, he says, was non-committal. Brien figured there was maybe a 20-percent chance he would sign the bill. And if he vetoed the measure, it seemed highly unlikely the legislative leadership would reconvene the General Assembly for an override.
Across the hallway, the opponents were waiting for their turn with the governor: Brock of Ocean State Action, Brown of the ACLU, John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island, Nick Figueroa of the Latino advocacy organization Univocal Legislative Minority Advisory Coalition, Kate Bowden of the Rhode Island Disability Law Center, and state Representative Michael Marcello.
Brien considered Marcello's presence a significant breach of etiquette — once the General Assembly has spoken on a bill, he says, members should not be lobbying the governor for a veto. He says he snapped at Marcello; Marcello says he replied that a bill isn't law until the governor has signed it.