PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Board of Elections on Tuesday voted 5-to-2 to review all signatures submitted by the Sabina Matos campaign on its nomination papers, although it remains unclear whether the action will have any effect on her name appearing on the ballot.
Matos, the lieutenant governor, is one of 12 Democrats running to replace David Cicilline in the 1st Congressional District. But since mid-July her campaign has been embroiled in an ongoing scandal spanning multiple communities where Rhode Islanders claim their signatures were forged on her nomination papers.
The board’s vote was an about-face from last week, when its members had said they were confident Matos had enough valid signatures to qualify for the Sept. 5 primary election ballot and saw so need to review all of her documents.
And while most members reiterated Tuesday they still believe Matos has more than the minimum 500 needed to make the ballot, newly sworn-in board member Randall Jackvony argued a full review is necessary because the ongoing scandal has caused some Rhode Islanders to “lose faith in the process.”
“I don’t think anyone wants that to happen,” Jackvony said before submitting a motion to have the BOE staff review all signatures submitted on Matos’ nomination papers.
Matos submitted nomination papers by the deadline last month with over 1,200 signatures, including more than 700 that were validated and another 500 that were rejected. The reasons for rejected signatures include mismatched signatures or a signatory not living within the congressional district.
But Target 12 also interviewed multiple people in Newport and Barrington who said their signatures were forged on Matos’ nomination paperwork and subsequently validated, raising questions about how many might have made it through.
This comes as R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha and the R.I. State Police continue their criminal investigation into whether any fraud was committed. In a live interview Tuesday afternoon on 12 News at 4, Neronha said he doesn’t expect the criminal probe to be wrapped up before the Sept. 5 primary, and expressed support for the board’s independent review.
The board and R.I. Secretary of State Gregg Amore have also called for lawmakers to provide more time between when nomination papers are submitted and when the state has to issue ballots with the names of validated candidates.
Evan England, a spokesperson for Matos, said they welcomed the board’s actions.
“The Board of Elections and secretary of state determined that the campaign had more than enough signatures certified by the local Boards of Canvassers to ensure Lieutenant Governor Matos’ place on the ballot,” England said.
“Rhode Islanders deserve to have confidence in our democratic process,” he continued. “We too want to understand what transpired with our nomination papers and we look forward to hearing the results of this review.”
Separately on Tuesday, Matos announced an endorsement from a national group called Save Democracy PAC that backs candidates who want to “ensure the security of our elections.”
“Voters can trust in Sabina Matos to continue standing up for the right to vote and our democracy when she’s in Congress,” said Ben Waldon, a member of Save Democracy PAC’s board, in a statement.
One of Matos’s rivals, Democrat Donald Carlson, said he was glad a majority of Board of Elections members had had a change of heart.
“The secret backroom meetings advocated by BOE’s legal counsel did serious damage to the public’s confidence in our elections,” Carlson said in a statement. “At a time when our democratic process is under regular attack by a former president and his minions, it is critical not to take shortcuts. The public’s business should be done in public.”