PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – More than 2,000 Providence voters turned in mail ballot applications ahead of the Sept. 12 primary, a steep increase from the number of mail ballots requested four years ago.

Kathy Placencia, the administrator for the Providence Board of Canvassers, confirmed Friday there were 2,183 requests for mail ballots in Providence by the Aug. 22 deadline, a 50% increase from the 2014 primary that featured competitive races for governor and mayor.

Nearly all of the mail ballots requested – 99% – were for the Democratic primary. There are no Republicans running for mayor of Providence or City Council, and only one Republican is running for a General Assembly seat that includes the capital city.

Mail ballot applications increased in each of Providence’s 15 City Council wards, but neighborhoods featuring competitive council primaries saw the bulk of the spike.

In Ward 8, where incumbent Councilman Wilbur Jennings is facing James Taylor and Deya Garcia, there were 303 mail ballots requested, up from 178 in the 2014 primary. Mail ballots made up 12% of the total vote in the ward four years ago. Ward 8 includes the South Elmwood, Reservoir Triangle and West End neighborhoods.

In Ward 13, which features a four-way primary to succeed retiring Councilman Bryan Principe, there were 250 mail ballots requested, up from 70 in 2014 when Principe ran unopposed. Cyd McKenna, Rachel Miller, Raymond Berarducci and Les Papp are running in the primary. Ward 13 includes Federal Hill and the West End.

In Ward 9, where incumbent Councilwoman Carmen Castillo faces a challenge from Hector Jose, 215 mail ballots were requested, nearly four times as many as 2014. Ward 9 includes Elmwood and South Elmwood.

In Ward 4, where incumbent Councilman Nick Narducci is facing a challenge from Jason Roias, there were 201 mail ballots requested, up from 97 in 2014 when Narducci didn’t have a primary. Ward 4 includes the North End.

The only other ward where more than 200 mail ballots were requested was Ward 5, where Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan faces Steven Cianci and Aaron Jaehnig. There were 249 mail ballots requested this year, compared to 213 in 2014. Ward 5 includes parts of Mount Pleasant and Elmhurst.

Because City Council wards overlap with General Assembly districts, and candidates running for mayor and statewide offices also employ mail ballot strategies, there is no definitive way to identify the candidates who will benefit from the spike until election day.

On the South Side, which has seen the largest spike in mail ballots, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee has hired Luis Estrada – one of the city’s most well-known political operatives – for his re-election bid. Mayoral candidate Robert DeRobbio’s campaign is also aggressively pursuing mail ballot votes. In the North End, the spike in mail ballots may be attributed to the House District 3 race, where incumbent Moria Walsh faces a primary challenge from Michael Earnheart. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello is supporting Earnheart, as is veteran mail ballot guru Ed Cotugno.

It is no secret that mail ballots often play a vital role in Rhode Island elections, particularly for local office.

State law allows residents to vote by mail if they certify that they “may not be able to vote at my polling place in my city or town on the day of the election” on a ballot application. It is common for campaign workers armed with blank mail ballot applications to visit the homes of registered voters to see if they would prefer to vote by mail.

Campaign workers are also allowed to return to the home of the voter after the actual mail ballots are sent out to ensure they are mailed back to the Board of Canvassers. While it is illegal for a campaign worker to fill out a mail ballot for a voter, the voter is allowed to seal their ballot and hand it to the worker to be submitted. (They could also drop it in the mail.)

Voters filling out mail ballots are required to have two witnesses sign a form declaring that they filled out the ballot. There is no prohibition on campaign workers or candidates themselves being one of the witnesses.

Even though the mail ballot application deadline has passed, the number residents voting by mail is likely to grow. State law also allows for emergency mail ballots within 20 days of an election.

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan