Board of Elections pushes special Prov. City Council election to June 2

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Board of Elections voted Friday to move the special election in Providence’s Ward 1 from April 7 to June 2, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move goes against the Providence City Council’s request to hold the election on May 5, which was passed in a resolution on Thursday night.

The board’s vote was unanimous to delay until June 2, which is the same date the board chose for the delay of the presidential primary, which was originally scheduled for April 28.

The elections will be held primarily by mail ballot, though some polls are still expected to be open.

The delay means the constituents of Ward 1 in Providence — which includes Fox Point, downtown and the Jewelry District — will be without representation on the City Council for at least two more months. The seat has been empty since Seth Yurdin’s resignation in January.

Democrat John Goncalves is the only candidate on the ballot for the general election, after winning a three-way primary in March. No Republicans or independents filed to run for the office.

Despite concerns about the extended delay in filling the seat, the elections board’s executive director Bob Rapoza said he believed it would be difficult for staff to conduct a mail ballot election on May 5, when they are currently preparing to start a mass mailing of ballot applications for the presidential primary.

He said all registered voters would be start being mailed those applications for presidential primary ballots on April 13.

Rapoza also said the June 2 date would be the “most efficient way to secure the safety of everyone involved,” since staffers and voting equipment would need to leave the building for a May 5 election and then return, potentially exposing the elections board to contamination by the virus ahead of the presidential primary.

City Councilor Helen Anthony, who represents Ward 2 on the East Side of Providence, said she was “very disappointed” by the decision to delay the election until June.

Anthony was among five councilors who voted against the council’s resolution on Thursday night, because she said it “abdicated” the council’s duties in the city charter to set the date of the election.

“I am very disappointed in our council leadership,” Anthony said.

Council President Sabina Matos said Thursday the council preferred to have the election on May 5, though the amended version of the resolution that passed said elections officials could select another date based on health and safety information.

“If it was my choice, I would continue to have the election next week,” Matos said. “It’s just one ward, and it’s the general election, and there’s not an opponent. At the same time, I’m just following the guidelines of the governor’s executive order that calls for no gatherings of more than five people.”

Goncalves, the candidate, declined to comment on Friday’s vote to delay the election until June 2. But in an emailed newsletter to neighbors on Thursday, he laid out some of the concerns about waiting longer than May 5.

“Pushing back the election date and keeping this seat vacant leaves Ward 1 residents susceptible to no official representation during this time of crisis and potentially much longer as we don’t know the outcome of this crisis,” Goncalves said.

Assuming the election is not further delayed beyond June 2, the new Ward 1 councilor would be sworn in amid debate over the city’s budget and property tax rate, which has to be passed before the start of the fiscal year on July 1.

The City Council was previously considering implementing a progressive tax structure this year, but President Sabina Matos said she is no longer pursuing such a structure.

Mayor Jorge Elorza is expected to present his budget and tax proposal to the council this month.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Council President Sabina Matos is no longer considering a progressive tax structure.

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