PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence Board of Canvassers has voted to refer a mail ballot complaint about a City Council candidate to the police.
The complaint refers to an incident at the Oxford Gardens apartment complex on Sept. 21, first reported by Target 12 last week, where police were called because Ward 10 Democratic candidate Natalia Rosa Sosa’s campaign volunteers were waiting for mail ballots to arrive for residents.
The complaint also references rival candidate Pedro Espinal, a fellow Democrat.
“Members of Natalia Rosa Sosa camp were knocking on people’s doors in the high rise and pushing them to get their mail ballots,” the complaint reads. “They were asked to be left alone and the group continued to insist. They were claiming to be from Pedro’s team and asking people for their mail ballots. There were also multiple people outside of the building waiting for the mail to get to the building. It got to a point where one of the residents were terrified and asked me to call the police.”
The city has not disclosed the name of the person who sent in the complaint.
Board of Canvassers members met in executive session to discuss the complaint Tuesday morning. After returning to open session, the board reported it had voted to refer the matter to police.
A police report from Sept. 21 shows officers responded to the scene for a “dispersal” after someone called to report seven people harassing residents and trying to take their mail. The report does not say who made the phone call to police, but Target 12 has since confirmed it was Espinal’s campaign manager Noel Frias.
In a phone interview with Target 12, Frias confirmed he called police, but denied sending the complaint to the city and said he does not know who filed it.
A video recorded by a member of the Rosa Sosa campaign at Oxford Gardens shows Frias talking to a police officer about what happened.
Frias told Target 12 he went down to the apartment complex after receiving a call from one of the residents who reported people were “freaking out” about the Rosa Sosa campaign being outside.
“Camping outside of a building … and harassing people who are telling them to leave them alone is unethical,” Frias said, adding Espinal also went to speak to the resident who had complained about the Rosa Sosa campaign.
Rosa Sosa’s field director Luis Estrada confirmed on Friday that his team, which submitted 15 mail ballot applications for residents, went to the building to assist with witness and notary services.
Rosa Sosa further elaborated on Tuesday, saying her campaign called all of the residents before showing up to wait for their mall ballots to arrive.
She also said everyone from her camp remained outside, and were not knocking on apartment doors.
Frias claims members of the Rosa Sosa campaign were “impersonating” Espinal volunteers, which Rosa Sosa denies.
“This is a very childish game they’re playing,” Rosa Sosa said, adding other campaigns are attacking her “because they believe I’m the front runner in this race.”
“My focus is to continue working hard walking and talking to the people of our ward,” Rosa Sosa said. “The people of Ward 10 is what is important.”
Mail ballot operations are a common features of political campaigns in Rhode Island, where voters can request mail ballots ahead of Election Day if they cannot make it to the polls. Campaign volunteers often assist with witnessing and notarizing ballots for voters. The mail ballot application says no one can “intimidate or unduly influence you, or interfere with your right to vote.”
The Providence Board of Canvassers has sent out 212 mail ballots for the Ward 10 primary so far, according to a spokesperson, which will be held on Oct. 10.
The special election for the ward that includes Washington Park and Lower South Providence is being held in the wake of the resignation of Luis Aponte, who was convicted of felony embezzlement.
For comparison, the Democratic primary last year between Aponte and Espinal had 1,212 voters, with 80 mail ballots.
There is only a Democratic primary for this race, as no Republicans filed to run. The other Democrats running against Rosa Sosa and Espinal are Monica Huertas and Orlando Correa.
Independent Jeffrey Lemire has also filed to run in the general election for the seat, which will be held on Nov. 5.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction from the city of Providence. 212 mail ballots have been requested and sent out for this race, not received.