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Second complaint about mail ballots filed in Providence City Council race

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A second complaint regarding mail ballots has been filed with the Providence Board of Canvassers related to the special election for the open City Council seat in Providence’s Ward 10.

Natalia Rosa Sosa, one of the Democratic candidates in Thursday’s primary, confirmed she filed a complaint with the Board of Canvassers Tuesday against rival Democrat Pedro Espinal.

The complaint comes in the midst of a heated primary campaign between four Democratic candidates, in a race to represent Washington Park and Lower South Providence that typically garners low turnout. Another mail ballot complaint has been filed against Rosa Sosa herself, and is now being investigated by the Providence Police.

According to the new complaint, provided by Rosa Sosa’s campaign, two of her campaign workers canvassing at the Oxford Gardens apartments knocked on the door of Maria Fajardo, a constituent who had requested a mail ballot.

According to the complaint, Fajardo told the campaign workers she had already been visited by Espinal and one of his campaign workers.

“She indicated that she had voted for someone else,” the complaint reads. “At that point, Pedro Espinal retrieved her ballot and voided it and told her she had done it wrong and that she would get another one in the mail.”

The complaint goes on to say that Fajardo told the Rosa Sosa campaign workers that “she was not stupid” and would just vote in person at the polls on election day.

City spokesperson Emily Crowell confirmed that the Board of Canvassers received the complaint on Tuesday. A meeting to consider it has not yet been scheduled.

Reached by phone, Fajardo confirmed she has not yet received a replacement for her voided mail ballot, but said she has nothing to do with the complaint that was filed. She said she plans to vote at the polls on Thursday.

Mildred Veilard, one of the campaign workers for Rosa Sosa, elaborated by phone, telling Target 12 she had gone to Fajardo’s door to collect her mail ballot and deliver it for her on Sept. 25.

“He ripped the mail ballot,” Veilard claims Fajardo told her. “He told her that she did something wrong.”

An audio recording of the exchange, in muffled Spanish, includes the voice of a woman asserting that she didn’t believe she would actually receive a new mail ballot.

Reached by phone, Espinal confirmed that he took Fajardo’s mail ballot from her, but said it was because she “scribbled” on the ballot, effectively marking more than one candidate.

“I didn’t rip it in half,” Espinal said. “I told her I was going to try to help her to get an emergency ballot.”

Asked why he hadn’t yet brought the voter a new ballot, Espinal said he had been busy campaigning but plans to bring her an emergency ballot on Wednesday, the day before the election.

He also said he did not know where the voided mail ballot is now.

The first mail ballot complaint filed in the race also involved the Oxford Gardens, and was aimed at Rosa Sosa.

The complaint alleges Rosa Sosa’s campaign was waiting at the apartment building for mail ballots to arrive via the postal service.

“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.”

The Board of Canvassers voted last Tuesday to refer the complaint to the Providence Police, but did not actually send it until six days later, after an inquiry from Target 12 about why it hadn’t been sent.

Police Major David Lapatin said Tuesday that detectives have received the complaint and will initiate an investigation.

The other two candidates in the Democratic primary are Monica Huertas, a social worker, and Orlando Correa, a union ironworker.

Correa has raised the most money in the campaign, largely thanks to union donations, and has been endorsed by multiple labor unions including those representing nurses and firefighters in Providence.

Huertas is endorsed by the newly founded progressive group Rhode Island Political Cooperative, which is co-chaired by former gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown.

Huertas also has the endorsement of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, which cited her commitment to the environment.

Neither the Providence Democratic Party nor Democratic Mayor Jorge Elorza has endorsed a candidate in the race.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Jeffrey Lemire, an independent, on Nov. 5. No Republicans are running in the race.

The special election is being held in the wake of the resignation of Luis Aponte, who pleaded to a felony count of embezzlement over the summer.

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

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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