Although the dust has somewhat settled (for now) on the signature scandal of this political season, involving an investigation into fraudulent nomination signatures obtained through the course of Lt. …
Although the dust has somewhat settled (for now) on the signature scandal of this political season, involving an investigation into fraudulent nomination signatures obtained through the course of Lt. Governor Sabina Matos’s campaign to get on the ballot for November’s special election, it is worth examining how this issue happened and what can be done to secure the process moving forward.
First, to establish how this scandal even occurred, we must look at the process overseen by the Rhode Island Board of Elections for qualifying for a Congressional race in the state. In all likelihood, before this scandal, few people probably had any interest in this process or the board and process that oversees it.
Candidates need 500 signatures to qualify. Those signatures can come from anywhere in the district they’re seeking to represent, but signatures must be certified by local boards of canvassers in the communities where signers reside. This means that each list of signatures being obtained for the same candidate are actually being inspected and certified by many different individual elections workers in multiple different town and city halls.
And this is where there’s some good and bad news. To their credit, it was local officials in Jamestown who initially blew the whistle that something was off with their submitted signatures, which triggered an avalanche of media scrutiny and, eventually, other local officials in other municipalities double checking and finding inconsistencies among their own signature sheets. Was it not for Jamestown throwing up a red flag, it is reasonable to wonder if the scandal would have ever gotten off the ground in the first place.
Clearly, there are some local canvassers and employees within town clerks offices who were on the ball, and did the difficult work of carefully inspecting signatures and matching them with voter ID cards, noting any inconsistencies and scrapping those signatures from the certified list. Others, however, seem to have failed in that effort; at least initially.
The next weak rung in the ladder appears to be the Board of Elections itself. Charged, supposedly, overseeing the process, they initiated no action on fraudulent signatures and actually certified Matos’s nomination prior to the scandal breaking, opting not to act on an official challenge of the papers because a representative of that challenge did not appear at their meeting. Only after the scandal erupted did they move the process along to the Attorney General’s office for an investigation.
The Board’s public relations following the emergence of the scandal could only be described as amateur as well, staying mostly silent save for a couple of press releases; only one of which included any attributable information from an actual Board representative, with others coming from a contracted PR firm. Much of the information provided by them seemed more purposeful in absolving themselves of accountability rather than helping secure confidence in the nomination process; another blunder.
To their credit, the Board’s most recent public statement acknowledged one change they hope to implement — expanding the window between signatures being due to them for certification and those signatures being due to the Secretary of State. This is a reasonable, considering the Board only has a matter of a couple days to certify the thousands of signatures they receive prior to handing them over.
In accordance with more emphasized training provided to local officials charged with certifying signatures, hopefully this most unfortunate incident can serve as a valuable learning opportunity and chance to improve the integrity of our electoral process going forward.