Over the course of the past year, much has been made at every level – local, state, and national – about ensuring the sanctity of our elections. There are rules – strict rules – on who can cast a vote. By and large we take it for granted that our elections are clean and fair, but we must be ever vigilant in protecting the system. When the system is taken advantage of, we must confront it head on. And this is what we are doing here today.
Over the course of the past few weeks, as a result of our normal post-election reconciliation of the ballot applications and the due diligence of our canvassing employees, several instances of voting irregularities have been identified from the 2016 elections in Cranston. Let me be clear right from the start that absolutely none of these cases occurred in the District 15 state representative race.
The irregularities range from:
1. two cases of suspected non-citizens being registered and actually voting in our city;
2. two incidents of residents who allegedly voted by emergency ballot at city hall prior to election day and also in person at their normal location on November 8th;
3. two residents who allegedly voted with a regular ballot at their polling location and then voted at city hall that same day for the President/Vice-President only;
4. one person allegedly voting in both the April Presidential Primary and November General Election in Cranston and in Providence as well;
5. one Cranston resident whose identity was allegedly used to be registered and a vote cast in a prior election in Providence without their knowledge or consent.
These are all ongoing investigations by the Cranston Police Department that will be referred to the Attorney General’s office for review for potential charges.
I want to thank the city’s new registrar, Nicholas Lima, the employees of the canvassing department and the Board of Canvassers for their due diligence in bringing these serious matters to the attention of the Cranston Police Department. I cannot thank the Cranston Police Department enough, and especially Det. Lee Sohn, for their comprehensive and thorough investigation of these irregularities.
Given that these are ongoing investigations, we must be very careful what we say here today. However, for now, let me breakdown some of the major areas of concern that I see:
– In light of loosening of the state election laws, the emergency ballot systems are now being exploited.
– We have identified two cases of suspected non US Citizens being registered to vote and casting votes.
– A separate case might actually not be a crime on their behalf at all, but one of stolen identity which will need to be addressed by the Board of Canvassers in Providence for further investigation.
– And better training of the poll workers must be organized by the state Board of Elections and/or RI Secretary of State’s Office.
While these irregularities are being investigated and handled by the Cranston Police Department with the assistance of the Attorney General’s office, we need to not only hold people accountable, but fix these loopholes and prevent this from happening again.
In light of what we have found, I am calling for the following:
1. The emergency ballot process as a whole should be addressed as it is being taken advantage of by some in what is loosely being called “early voting.” We absolutely must require Photo ID when citizens come to City Hall and fill out and vote with an in-person emergency ballot. The original intent of the emergency ballot was to allow those who had medical emergencies, or those who were sent out of state for work unexpectedly, or the similar like, a backup system to cast their vote. Emergencies happen, but the way the system is set up currently, there is no standard of proof for such, and some people were taking heavy advantage of that fact.
2. We must incorporate real-time technology, such as the e-poll book piloted this year at some polls statewide, for all ballots cast. This would allow for instantaneous detection of double voting attempts, versus an after the fact reconciliation.
3. For those first time individuals coming in on election day to vote for President/Vice President only, there needs to be a system to check to see if these residents are already registered or not.
4. The Secretary of State’s office needs to develop a system to prevent non-citizens from registering to vote, catching this act of perjury out front. Secretary Gorbea absolutely must tighten up this process as the current system of using a Driver’s License or ID number appears to be inadequate.
5. Finally, the Board of Elections must step up its training efforts for poll workers. While these thoughtful residents of our community step up for each election, and we cannot thank them enough for their time and efforts, it appears as though there were areas that weren’t emphasized enough in the trainings, like the use of provisional ballots.
I will be reaching out in the next few days to Secretary Gorbea to share our findings in regards to what could be done better for the next election. And with that, I am happy to take your questions.