PROVIDENCE — The Newport Canvassing Authority on Wednesday asked the police to investigate signatures on nomination papers for Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, marking the most recent development in a growing scandal about signatures submitted in her campaign for the First Congressional District seat.
Three members of the canvassing authority voted unanimously to ask the Newport police to probe three signatures submitted on Matos’ behalf, city spokesman Tom Shevlin said.
The request came after city staff had already rejected 14 of 32 signatures submitted on nomination papers for Matos, and the authority is asking the police to investigate three additional signatures, he said.
And the Newport action comes two days after the Jamestown Board of Canvassers asked the police to investigate nomination signatures — including the names of dead people — submitted on behalf of Matos.
Both the Newport and Jamestown nomination papers were submitted and signed by Holly McClaren, a Providence resident, and both documents were notarized by Evan England, a spokesman for the Matos campaign.
McClaren, who was a part-time field organizer for the campaign, could not be reached Wednesday.
But Matos issued a statement, saying “While it is clear we have submitted more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, I am deeply troubled by what has been reported in the news. Anyone who violated the law should be held accountable and will have no role on my campaign.”
The Newport Canvassing Authority met at 11 a.m. Wednesday, and the agenda called for “Discussion regarding issues relating to the allegation of fraudulent signatures” and the “finding of unexpected occurrence which requires immediate action to protect the public.”
Shevlin said city staff flagged and rejected 14 of 32 signatures submitted on Matos’ behalf on July 11. He explained that as part of normal procedure, city staff compares signatures on nomination papers with the signatures on record with the canvassing authority, and it’s normal for some signatures to be rejected during any campaign cycle.
But, Shevlin said, “Rejecting 14 of 32 signatures is higher than what we normally see.”
Sharon Connors, chair of the Newport Canvassing Authority, said the board met Wednesday after learning that three additional signatures might be invalid.
“We take election integrity seriously and election officials will investigate any claims of wrongdoing rigorously,” Connors said. “We forwarded this matter to the Newport police department and expect the office of the Secretary of State and RI Board of Elections to take up this matter.”
Matos is among 13 Democrats and two Republicans who have qualified for ballot. Candidates must submit at least 500 valid signatures to appear on the ballot, and the Matos campaign submitted 728 signatures that were validated by local boards of canvassers and certified by the secretary of state’s office.
Amid mounting controversy, Matos is drawing increasing criticism from her opponents in the congressional race.
Donald Carlson, a renewable energy investor from Jamestown, on Wednesday filed a challenge to the nomination signatures submitted by McClaren for the Matos campaign. He is seeking a review of papers she submitted in other parts of the First Congressional District, including Barrington, Bristol, Central Falls, Cumberland, East Providence, Jamestown, Lincoln, Newport, North Providence, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Providence, Warren, and Woonsocket.
“To date, at least three types of fraud have been documented: Names and signatures of voters who have died, names and signatures of people who have moved away, and names and signatures of people who deny ever signing nomination papers for Sabina Matos,” Carlson said in a statement. “Lieutenant Governor Matos has not answered questions from reporters about the legitimacy of her signatures or about the integrity or nature of the process through which she and her campaign collected signatures.”
Gabe Amo, a Democratic former White House official, on Wednesday issued a statement urging state and law enforcement officials to launch a joint investigation into signatures submitted by the Matos campaign.
“Our democracy is sacred,” Amo said. “It is disheartening to think that the signatures of both dead and living Rhode Islanders have been forged on her papers in at least two of the 19 municipalities in the First Congressional District.”
Amo said it is shocking the Matos has not held a news conference to answer questions directly about the matter. “There has been no accountability from the Lieutenant Governor,” he said. ““These instances of election fraud are a distraction from the issues facing Rhode Islanders in this election for our next member of Congress.”
Former state Representative J. Aaron Regunberg, a Providence Democrat, issued a statement, saying, “With our democracy quite literally under attack right now, it’s more important than ever that we stand up for fair elections that voters can have faith in. It appears the Matos campaign has failed on these absolutely critical measures.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Attorney General Peter F. Neronha’s office said the Jamestown Police Department reached out to the attorney general’s office, and the office will be working with them on the investigation of the Matos signatures.