Board of Canvassers fear they wouldn't have resources to verify mail ballot applications

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 7/31/20

Having gone through the June presidential preferential primary that was largely a mail ballot without a contested outcome, Dottie McCarthy can't imagine how a predominately mail ballot election would work for the pivotal Nov. 3 general

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Board of Canvassers fear they wouldn't have resources to verify mail ballot applications

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Having gone through the June presidential preferential primary that was largely a mail ballot without a contested outcome, Dottie McCarthy can’t imagine how a predominately mail ballot election would work for the pivotal Nov. 3 general election when so many more people are expected to vote.

In fact, from her perspective as director of the Warwick Board of Canvassers, doing the same thing again can’t work even with additional funding and personnel.

“It’s a total failure, it’s not going to work,” she said of the approach in which the Secretary of State sent mail ballot applications to more than 700,000 on registered voter rolls. It was the job of local boards of election to authenticate the signatures of those requesting ballots. McCarthy and her crew of two, plus the loan of an employee from another department, were given almost 14,000 applications. That by itself was a gargantuan task.

But McCarthy believes far more than 14,000 of the city’s 60,000 registered voters will want to cast ballots in the general election. And if the general election is not enough, there’s a primary election to be held Sept. 8.

While the Secretary of State’s plan to waive witness requirements for mail ballots was upheld in federal court this week, the issue of whether mail ballot applications will be sent to all registered Rhode Island voters remains unresolved.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State said Wednesday postcards would be in the mail today to registered voters in districts facing a primary informing them of three ways of casting ballots.

Those are listed as mail ballot, early voting and at the polls on the day of the primary.

The card explains how to obtain a mail ballot. The spokesman said early voting would be possible up to 20 days in advance of the primary at voting machines in city or town halls.

In a statement released last week, Gorbea said she “is evaluating next steps for the November 3 general election with state and local election officials to find ways to ensure voters have safe and healthy voting options this year.”

Meanwhile, others have ideas on what should be done.

The House passed legislation that, among other provisions, would require the mailing of mail ballot applications to all registered voters – the very action McCarthy fears would be a replay of the presidential primary on a far grander scale. The measure, however, was not considered by the Senate.

In a release, John Marion of Common Cause, speaking for the 17 members of the Voting Access Coalition, criticized the Senate leadership, saying: “Unfortunately, the Senate took no action on legislation that would protect the health of those who need to vote by regular mail ballots. By not taking additional steps, the Senate has asked the voters of Rhode Island to choose between their health and their right to vote.”

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio doesn’t see it that way. He notes anyone can get a mail ballot. Furthermore, Greg Pare of Ruggeriro’s office said there was no companion legislation for the Senate to consider and that the language of the House bill was only made public shortly before being considered.

“The Senate President has expressed his disappointment that nobody let us know the mail ballot bill was going to be considered,” Pare writes in an email. He goes on to enumerate the reasons why Ruggerio sees no need for the measure including that voters have access to mail ballots already; it’s a costly and unnecessary process as illustrated by the fact that six out of seven ballot applications ended up in the trash for the June primary; and “more disturbingly, more than 1,670 ballots were uncounted. That’s enough to change the results of an election in tight races across the state.”

“No one needs to risk their health to vote. The process for obtaining a ballot is easy, and Rhode Islanders can do it now,” Pare concludes.

In his release, Marion says: “As a result of that [Senate] inaction, it has become even more urgent for the Secretary of State to send out mail ballot applications to all qualified voters, just as she did for the June primary, and we call on her to do so immediately. Time is quickly running out to prepare for the fall elections, and we need to take bold, urgent action to promote the rights, and safeguard the health, of all voters.”

McCarthy isn’t holding her breath. She has to prepare to open 33 polling locations on Nov. 3.

She’s in a rush to hire 300 personnel. She’s sent letters to her veteran poll workers along with additional forms in hopes they will recruit friends.

As for going through another round of verifying the signatures of registered voters applying for a mail ballot, it’s a nightmare she prays she won’t relive.

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