PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Board of Elections will not meet after all to discuss Mayor Jorge Elorza’s request to remove new ballot machines from polling places ahead of Tuesday’s primary election.
The board cancelled its emergency meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, after receiving word from the state’s elections vendor that the old accessible machines were not an option to replace the ExpressVote.
Elorza called for the accessible ExpressVote machines to be removed from use on Friday, citing several errors that have been caught in the Spanish version of the touch-screen ballot during early voting.
But voting rights groups, which had express concerns about the errors, said the machines should stay in place in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ADA-compliant machines allow people with disabilities, including vision impairment, to vote independently using the touch screen or audio assistance with a braille remote. But voters without disabilities had also been encouraged to use the machine; Elorza himself voted on the ExpressVote before the errors were revealed.
Target 12 previously reported that Rhode Island candidate names from 2018 were uploaded for four different races on the Spanish ballot in Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and Central Falls. The error was first discovered by a Providence resident voting in the race for mayor.
After the error was fixed, the new version with the correct candidates still misspelled the name of a mayoral candidate, Gonzalo Cuervo. The elections board also revealed that several headings for various races were also incorrect.
The Board of Elections initially scheduled an emergency meeting to discuss Elorza’s request, even though the machines were already in the midst of being delivered to nearly 400 polling places for Tuesday’s election.
But Elections Systems and Software, the private vendor that runs the machines, said in a letter Sunday night that there was no backup plan for people with disabilities to vote other than the ExpressVote. The previous machine used in Rhode Island, called the Automark, is not an option according to ES&S.
“ES&S no longer manufactures or sells the AutoMARK and therefore the ability to program one is not
even an option in any new software including the version currently being run in Rhode Island,” wrote Joseph Vitale, who handles Rhode Island for the private elections vendor.
In order to get the previously used AutoMARK machines back in-service, Vitale said they would need to complete multiple tasks that would take hours, or even days, including: recreating old databases, setting up and testing machines, and delivering them to the 395 polling places in Rhode Island.
“The Board will convene a meeting in the near future to further discuss the ExpressVote equipment, as well as receive a report regarding its use during the primary,” said Bob Rapoza, the executive director of the Board of Elections. “Of course, if other circumstances develop on any matter involving the election process in the State of Rhode Island, the Board is prepared to meet and address any such issue that may arise.”
Rapoza has said the errors have been fixed, and the elections board voted to create a new protocol for checking the private vendor’s work ahead of the November election.
Voters can choose to use either a regular paper ballot or the ExpressVote machine during Tuesday’s primary, where the polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The ExpressVote prints out the voter’s choices to verify before the vote is counted.
Steph Machado contributed to this report.