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In new mishap, ballot marking machine misspelled Providence mayoral candidate’s name

A state Board of Elections spokesman said it was notified about the issue at 9 a.m. Tuesday, and it was fixed by 9:30 a.m.

Rhode Island Board of Elections headquarters in Johnston, R.I.Edward Fitzpatrick

PROVIDENCE — Democratic mayoral candidate Gonzalo Cuervo’s name was misspelled as “Gonzolo” on the screen of a Spanish language ballot marking machine on Tuesday in Providence, city and state officials said.

“I can confirm that earlier today, staff with the Providence Board of Canvassers were notified of a misspelling on the Spanish ballot displayed on the ExpressVote machine,” city spokesperson Theresa Agonia said in an email Tuesday. “Providence Mayoral candidate Gonzalo Cuervo was displayed as Gonzolo Cuervo. The matter was immediately brought to the attention of the State Board of Elections and has since been addressed.”

Christopher Hunter, spokesman for the state Board of Elections, said it was notified about the issue at 9 a.m., and it was fixed by 9:30 a.m. Hunter said the vendor of ExpressVote, Election Systems & Software, was responsible for the error.

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Johnathan Berard, spokesman for Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, said in an email that the office was notified by a candidate for mayor of Providence Tuesday morning that his name was misspelled on the Spanish language screen of the ballot marking machine. Gorbea’s office said it brought the issue to the attention of the vendor of the machine, and also sent a letter to the Board of Elections “notifying them that this was the second instance of a screen error within a week and urging them to correct the mistake.”

Cuervo’s campaign said it was notified after the error was corrected, and had no other comment.

Cuervo faces Brett Smiley and Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune in the Democratic primary. Mayor Jorge Elorza is term-limited.

The mishap comes after separate errors on the ExpressVote Spanish language ballot marking machine screens in Providence’s mayoral race, as well in Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Woonsocket. That was the result of human error by vendor Election Systems & Software, election officials previously said. ExpressVote, being used for the first time in this election, is available at all polling places in Rhode Island, and is designed to help voters with disabilities mark their ballots. Any voter can use it. The ExpressVote machines don’t actually count the votes, but print physical ballot cards before they’re put in a scanner to tabulate the votes. The Board of Elections said the Spanish language ballots displayed on ExpressVote machines were corrected “within hours” of the issue first being raised on Aug. 31.

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Primary day is Sept. 13, although people can also vote early in Rhode Island — and have now run into two different issues while trying to do so.

In the earlier issue, wrong candidate names were listed on ExpressVote machines for Spanish language selections in the Democratic contests for mayor of Providence and lieutenant governor, and Republican contests for the 1st Congressional District and general treasurer, election officials said. In the case of the mayoral primary, candidates from 2018 were listed. As many as 55 voters may have been affected.

The Board of Elections and the Secretary of State’s office, which are independent of each other, both have a hand in the administration of Rhode Island elections, dual roles that have now led to finger-pointing about who’s responsible for the issues with the Spanish language ballot marking machine screens.

The previous issue with the Spanish language ballot marking machine screens last week led to a flurry of letters.

Elorza wrote to Gorbea and Board of Elections Executive Director Robert Rapoza about the situation on Friday, before the issue with Cuervo’s name came up.

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Elorza wrote that it was “extremely disappointing and simply unacceptable that neither the Secretary of State’s office nor the Board of Elections had a system in place to prevent this from occurring.”

Gorbea, who is running in next Tuesday’s Democratic primary for governor, said in a response to Elorza that Elorza had made “misguided statements” in his letter.

Gorbea pointed to a state law that “clearly articulates the role of logic, accuracy, and programming testing as a responsibility of the Board of Elections.”

She said previously that she was “outraged” that the voting machine vendor made a programming error and “appalled” that the Board of Elections failed to identify those errors.

Rapoza, for his part, also cited state law in response to Elorza, “clarifying” that “it is the Secretary of State’s responsibility for ballot design, accuracy, programming and proofing. The Board of Elections is responsible for confirming the logic and accuracy of the cartridge that tabulates the ballots.”

“Regardless, we share your concern and frustration regarding this error,” Rapoza wrote on Saturday. “That is why we are working with ES&S and the Secretary of State’s Office to pinpoint how this vendor error occurred, and to put in place policies and procedures to ensure that it never happens again.”

The Board of Elections has a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, where the topic of the ballot machine errors will be discussed, said Hunter, the Board of Elections spokesman.

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Gorbea faces Gov. Dan McKee, former CVS executive Helena Foulkes, former Secretary of State Matt Brown, and Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz in the Democratic primary.

Elorza has endorsed Foulkes, which Gorbea cited in her letter responding to him accusing him of getting his facts wrong. Elorza has also endorsed Cuervo to replace him. Cuervo previously served as Gorbea’s chief of staff and deputy secretary of state.

Elorza’s letter to Gorbea and Rapoza

Gorbea’s response to Elorza

Rapoza’s response to Elorza


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him @bamaral44.