PROVIDENCE — Rhode Islanders will have to wait to find out if a progressive tide is sweeping into the state legislature, but Tuesday’s in-person voting left some powerful long-time Democratic incumbents treading water.
Amid the pandemic, a large proportion of voters cast ballots by mail in this year’s primary elections, and the Board of Elections doesn’t expect to announce those vote totals until Thursday, executive director Robert Rapoza said.
But those who voted in person at polls Tuesday gave challenger Cynthia Mendes a lead over Senate Finance Chairman William J. Conley Jr. after she opposed development of an East Providence golf course while he represented the course’s owner as an attorney. With nine of 13 precincts reporting, Mendes led 70 percent to 30 percent.
In Providence, long-time Senator Harold M. Metts was trailing progressive candidate Tiara T. Mack despite a mailer in which Metts was endorsed by popular Providence College basketball coach Ed Cooley. With seven of eight precincts reporting, Mack led 58 percent to 42 percent.
Progressive Senator Samuel Bell, a thorn in the side of the Senate leadership, had racked up 70 percent of the in-person vote in a high-profile contest against Providence City Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan.
Meanwhile, Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio was leading with 54 percent of the vote after outspending his opponent, Leonardo A. Cioe Jr., by a factor of 28 to 1.
On the House side, progressive Representative Moira Walsh, an outspoken critic of House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, conceded while trailing Nathan Biah, a high school principal in Providence, with 28 percent of the vote.
Matt Brown, a co-founder of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, noted that many mail ballots remain to be counted, but based on Tuesday night’s tallies, he said, “We are seeing a political earthquake that likes of which this state has not seen in decades.”
“I think we are doing really, really well,” said Jeanine Calkin, another co-founder of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, who was clinging to a 20-vote lead over Senator Mark P. McKenney, a Warwick Democrat. “I think it shows that people are ready for change.”
Rhode Island’s congressional primaries held none of the drama of the Massachusetts showdown between Senator Edward J. Markey and Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III.
On the Democratic side in Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District, Representative James R. Langevin was out ahead of challenger Dylan Conley, son of Senator William Conley. And on the Republican side, Robert B. Lancia was far ahead of Donald Frederick Robbio.
On Tuesday night, the Board of Elections posted the tallies of votes cast in-person at 280 precincts throughout the state, providing a preliminary indication of how some races will turn out. But Rapoza cautioned that, “Mail ballots will decide just about every race.”
As of 8:25 p.m., a total of 45,060 voters had cast their ballots at the polls, while another 6,967 people voted early in person “emergency” ballots, for a total of 52,027 in-person votes, according to the secretary of state’s office.
But the board has received a total of 33,665 mail ballots, with an untold number still to be received from 260 drop boxes around the state. Cities and towns won’t deliver those ballots to the Board of Elections until noon on Wednesday.
This primary election vote total of at least 85,692 will surpass the 2016 primary election turnout of 69,608, and it is approaching the 2012 primaries total of 92,249.
“Patience is a virtue,” said John M. Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island. “Better to be accurate than fast.”
During a normal year, Rhode Island would see less than 5 percent of votes cast by mail ballot, he said, and thanks to the pandemic, nothing is normal about this year. In June’s presidential primary, the state saw 83 percent of votes cast by mail, he noted.
“I’d rather give voters the option of voting safely than giving them the satisfaction of knowing final results before they go to bed on election night,” Marion said.
So are delayed results going to become the new norm?
“Not necessarily,” Marion said. States such as Colorado and Oregon rely heavily on mail ballots and produce fast results because their processes are set up to count large numbers of mail ballots quickly, he said.
Rhode Island has more than 600 of the DS200 voting machines used at polling places, but it has just two of the DS850 machines used to count mail ballots, Marion said. “We are trying to change our process on a dime,” he said, “and that is hard to do and produce fast results.”
The Rhode Island Political Cooperative is hoping the primary election results will shake up the Democratic power structure at the State House.
The progressive group is backing 24 candidates, including seven House candidates and 10 Senate candidates who are challenging top Democratic leaders such as Ruggerio, McCaffrey, and Conley.
“I am feeling hopeful,” said Brown, a former secretary of state. “We are taking on a long-standing, deeply entrenched, corporate-backed, powerful political establishment, and it looks like our candidates were outspent by 4 to 1, on average. But I think we are on the verge of a major upset.”
The Rhode Island Political Cooperative recruited and trained candidates and campaign managers, and developed a common policy platform that calls for things such as single-payer health care, a $15 minimum wage, and a “Green New Deal.”
“The reality is that a lot of our elected officials who call themselves Democrats are really Republicans in terms of how they vote,” Brown said. “That is what needs to change here.”
But Representative Joseph M. McNamara, a Warwick Democrat who is chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, said, “The fact of the matter is we have an extremely large tent, including members who are very progressive and some who are more conservative.”
For example, he said some Democrats are strong supporters of gun control while others from more rural areas disagree, holding views that reflect those of their constituents.
McNamara criticized Brown, citing a fundraising controversy in Brown’s 2006 U.S. Senate race.
“I would say Matt Brown has proven he is a loser,” McNamara said. “So if he wants to slander Democrats that have run that have had clean records, that is his prerogative, but I would certainly not take any lessons or notes from Matt Brown.”
Ruggerio issued a statement, saying, “I’m confident that once every ballot is counted I will prevail in this election. That said, I want to respect the process and will wait for every ballot to be counted. Claiming victory tonight would be disrespectful to my constituents and a disservice to the Democratic process. We look forward to tomorrow’s final count.”
Calkin said this marks the first time the Rhode Island Political Cooperativ has backed a slate of candidates in a Democratic primary. While it would be great if all 17 progressive legislative candidates won, she said those campaigns can be worthwhile, even if they come up short, because many Rhode Island incumbents run unopposed.
“Sometimes it’s the trying that can make a difference because the incumbent knows that person is out there to challenge them again in two years,” Calkin said. “If you know a progressive might take you on, you might try to pass more progressive legislation.”
Georgia Hollister Isman, Rhode Island director for the Working Families Party, agreed, saying that progressive candidates that come close can have an impact on what bills pass in the next legislative session.
The Working Families Party backed 10 progressive candidates in Tuesday’s primary – including Leonela Felix, who was opening up a lead over Representative Raymond H. Johnston Jr.; Brandon Potter, who was leading Representative Christopher Millea; and Michelle McGaw, who was opening up a big lead over John G. Edwards V.
The group’s platform includes a “Green New Deal for Rhode Island,” a $15 minimum wage, and taxing the wealthiest Rhode Islanders to help fund public schools. The group has made 13,000 calls and sent 24,000 text messages in the state.
“I think the march toward a more progressive House and Senate is continuing,” Hollister Isman said. “Progressives are going to make some progress in the primary – the question is whether it will be a steady, slow progress or a big leap forward. At this moment, I feel confident it’s a big set of gains."
Here are preliminary results based only on in-person votes that have been counted so far.
Rhode Island had primaries in the 2nd Congressional District on Tuesday.
On the Democratic side, Representative James R. Langevin had 66 percent of the vote with 88 percent of the precincts counted, leading Providence Board of Licenses Chairman Dylan Conley. On the Republican side, Robert B. Lancia had 73 percent of the vote, leading Donald Frederick Robbio.
District 1 (Providence)
Senator Maryellen Goodwin was leading with 79 percent of the vote over Evan A. Lemoine
District 4 (North Providence, Providence)
Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio was leading with 54 percent of the vote over Leonardo A. Cioe Jr.
District 5 (Providence)
Senator Samuel W. Bell had 70 percent of the vote over Providence City Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan
District 6 (Providence)
With half the precincts reporting, Senator Harold M. Metts had 34 percent of the vote trailing Tiara T. Mack
District 9 (West Warwick)
John P. Burke was leading with 57 percent of the voter over Geoffrey E. Rousselle
District 15 (North Providence, Pawtucket)
Meghan E. Kallman was leading with 50 percent of the vote over Herbert P. Weiss and Robert H. Morris Jr.
District 16 (Central Falls, Pawtucket)
Central Falls Councilman Jonathon Acosta had 45 percent of the vote, just ahead of Senator Elizabeth A. Crowley who had 43 percent.
District 18 (East Providence, Pawtucket)
With 69 percent of precincts reporting, Senate Finance Chairman William J. Conley Jr. was trailing Cynthia M. Mendes, who had 70 percent of the vote.
District 22 (Johnston, North Providence, Smithfield)
Stephen R. Archambault was leading with 60.5 percent of the vote over Melanie G. DuPont
District 29 (Warwick)
Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey had 55 percent of the vote over Jennifer T. Rourke
District 30 (Warwick)
Calkin had 51 percent of the vote over Senator Mark P. McKenney
District 31 (Warwick)
With 75 percent of precincts reporting, four Democrats were bunched up, with Kendra Anderson leading with 29 percent of the vote, over Brian S. Dunckley with 24.6 percent, Michael F. Mita with 23.8 percent, and Warwick City Council President Steve Merolla with 22.6 percent. They are competing for the seat being vacated by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Erin Lynch-Prata. On the Republican side, Scott M. Zambarano led with 82 percent of the vote over John P. Silvaggio.
District 36 (Narragansett, North Kingstown)
Alana DiMario lead with 69 percent of the vote over Ellen S. Waxman
District 37 (New Shoreham, South Kingstown)
Senator V. Susan Sosnowski led with 53.6 percent of the voter over Maggie A. Kain
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
District 3 (Providence)
Representative Moira J. Walsh had 28 percent of the vote, trailing far behind Nathan W. Biah, who was supported by Mattiello.
District 7 (Providence)
Challenger David Morales led with 47 percent of the vote over Representative Daniel P. McKiernan trailed with 26.5 percent, and Angel Subervi with 26.4 percent.
District 8 (Providence)
Representative John J. Lombardi led with 88 percent of the vote over Darwin Castro
District 11 (Providence)
Representative Grace Diaz led with 69 percent of the vote over Laura Perez
District 12 (Providence)
Jose F. Batista led Carlos Cedeno by a tally of 281 to 263.
District 13 (Johnston, Providence)
Ramon A. Perez led with 166 votes over Representative Mario F. Mendez with 147 votes and Janice A. Falconer with 98 votes
District 16 (Cranston)
Challenger Brandon C. Potter led with 59 percent of the vote over Representative Christopher T. Millea
District 19 (Cranston, Warwick)
Representative Joseph McNamara, chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, led with 60 percent of the voter over Stuart A. Wilson
District 27 (Coventry, Warwick)
Representative Patricia A. Serpa led with 68 percent of the vote over Nicholas E. Delmenico
District 34 (Narragansett, South Kingstown)
Representative Teresa A. Tanzi led with 64 percent of the vote over Gina M. Giramma
District 35 (South Kingstown)
Representative Kathleen A. Fogarty led with 65 percent of the vote over Spencer E. Dickinson
District 38 (Hopkinton, Westerly)
Representative Brian Patrick Kennedy led with 59 percent of the vote over Miguel J. Torres
District 41 (Cranston, Scituate)
Pamela Carosi led with 74 percent of the vote over Giuseppe Mattiello, a cousin of House Speaker Mattiello
District 43 (Johnston)
Representative Deborah A. Fellela led with 62 percent of the vote over Melinda Lopez
District 61 (Pawtucket)
Leonela Felix led with 61 percent of the vote over Representative Raymond H. Johnston Jr.
District 64 (East Providence)
Brianna E. Henries led with 64 percent of the vote over Representative Joe Serodio
District 71 (Little Compton, Portsmouth, Tiverton)
Michelle E. McGaw led with 77 percent of the vote over John G. Edwards V
District 72 (Middletown, Portsmouth)
Representative Terri-Denise Cortvriend led with 76 percent of the vote over Christopher T. Semonelli
District 74 (Jamestown)
Representative Deborah L. Ruggiero led with 73 percent of the vote over Henry F. Lombardi Jr.