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BOE says mail ballot processing ‘very secure’ and going well but critics leery

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CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ This year will bring as many mail ballots through the Rhode Island Board of Elections as were cast in the last few presidential elections, spiking concerns for some while the agency remains confident in the process.

By Monday afternoon, just over 155,000 mail ballots had been cast according to the R.I. Secretary of State, and BOE Executive Director Robert Rapoza said there have not been any issues.

“Mail ballot processing in Rhode Island in my opinion is very secure,” Rapoza said. “The ballot comes in. It’s locked up until it’s processed. We have teams of two people examining the signatures under the watchful eye of the Board of Elections.”

Rapoza said the agency added 44 seasonal employees to its full time staff of 12 to help with the process that includes comparing the voters’ signatures on the oath envelope holding the ballots with the voters’ signatures on file in the state database.

“The staff that is doing the signature comparison has attended a class that gave them all insight of what they should be looking for,” Rapoza said.

In previous years, two witnesses or a notary were required to sign the envelopes, but that requirement was lifted for this election to pare down crowds at the polls.

BOE staff has already started verifying signatures and scanning the ballots into machines that are counting the votes, but the results will not be totaled or released to anyone until Tuesday night at 11, Rapoza said.

Critics of the mail ballot process point to the 2016 race for Cranston District 15 between House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and challenger Steve Frias who was up by 147 votes on election night.

Still, Mattiello remained confident and offered a bold prediction about the mail ballots that would be counted the next day.

“We will get an overwhelming percentage of that,” he said. “Very conservatively I know we will be up bet 300. So, we know we won the race.”

The mail ballot count did put Mattiello ahead and he won by 85 votes after a recount. 

Glocester Republican David Place, Frias and others have asked how a candidate would know mail ballots would swing their way before they are tallied unless they somehow had inside information about how their constituents voted.

R.I. State Police investigated but did not find any evidence of voter fraud, which is a felony.

Place does not believe there’s widespread, mail ballot fraud but he said in Rhode Island’s small districts it would not take much to swing a race.

“In close races is it possible to manipulate the final count?” Place said. “Anytime someone wants to do something nefarious, they can accomplish it.”

But Place emphasized the story of the 2020 election will not be fraud.

His main concern is “disenfranchised voters” whose ballots get thrown for various reasons due to the volume of votes and relatively short window of time to process the record total.

“How many votes won’t be counted because one, they didn’t get their ballot in on time?” Place asked. “Or their signature didn’t match and there wasn’t time to get that vote counted?”

According to the BOE, if a mail ballot is rejected the voter will receive a notice and can cure the issues. The vote will then be counted if the ballot is corrected and returned to the BOE by November 10.

Place still expects “thousands” of ballots to be tossed.

Rapoza remains confident.

“I would not be skeptical,” he said.

Rapoza expects results for local and national races by Friday but a timeline released by the BOE indicates provisional ballot counts will be added through next Monday and deficient mail ballots by the following day.

BOE spokesman Christoper Hunter said those totals are “unlikely” to impact any races unless they are “extremely close.”

Mail ballots must be recieved at the Board of Elections at 2000 Plainfield Pike in Cranston by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, and you can track the processing of your vote by clicking here.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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