In Chafee's office, the opponents made their case. Along the way, they pointed out that five governors, from New Hampshire to North Carolina, had recently vetoed voter ID bills; Chafee noted that he'd served in the US Senate with one of them, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.

Marcello says he left the meeting reasonably confident that the governor would veto the measure.

The next day, a Saturday, deputy secretary of state Caranci was at a Dunkin' Donuts buying an iced tea when Christine Hunsinger, spokeswoman for the governor, called. Chafee, she said, was giving serious consideration to the bill and she had a few more questions.

Voter ID would be signed.

The governor held a private signing ceremony at the State House that day for a civil unions bill that passed at the close of the session. Fox was on hand. And when he ran into Chafee in the parking lot later, the governor delivered the news: he had signed voter ID.

Brien was sitting on his rider lawn mower in Woonsocket, a few Coors Lights to lighten the mood, when he got the text message from Fox. "I almost fell off the friggin' thing," he says.

After years of beating his head against the wall at the State House, he'd pulled off a stunning, improbable victory. He called Williams to deliver the news, then his co-sponsors: O'Neill, Republican Joseph Trillo, and Rhode Island Tea Party favorite Doreen Costa.

Chafee went off on vacation — sailing with his wife — with no formal announcement from his office about the signing. And it was not until the Tea Party sent out a Tuesday morning email blast, hailing enactment of the law, that opponents suspected the worst.

Brock was sitting in her Cranston office when Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg called with the news. She punched the wall in frustration. Ocean State Action and its labor allies had worked hard to get Chafee in office.

They knew he wouldn't side with them on every issue. But this felt like a matter of core values. What did he stand for? What did the Rhode Island Democratic Party stand for?

This just wasn't supposed to happen. Not here.

But it had.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at

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