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R.I. Board of Elections will review all 1,256 Matos nomination signatures

The decision comes 18 days after the board placed the lieutenant governor on the Sept. 5 Democratic primary ballot in the First Congressional District race

Randall A. Jackvony, a member of the Rhode Island Board of Elections.Edward Fitzpatrick

CRANSTON, R.I. — By a 5-to-2 vote, the Rhode Island Board of Elections on Tuesday launched a review of all 1,256 signatures submitted on behalf of Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos as a criminal probe continues into fraudulent signatures found on her nomination papers in the First Congressional District race.

On July 21, the board determined that Matos, a Providence Democrat, qualified to appear on the Sept. 5 primary ballot, basing that decision on the 728 signatures validated by local boards of canvassers — which was more than 500 required for ballot placement.

But the Board of Elections faced criticism and calls for a wider review amid evidence that Matos’ nomination papers included the names of dead people and people who said they had never signed those documents. And now the board will be embarking on an analysis with an uncertain outcome, raising further questions for Matos, who entered the race as the presumed front-runner.

Board of Elections member Randall A. Jackvony called for the additional review, and said, “I thought some of our actions may have caused people to lose faith in the process, and I don’t think anyone wants that to happen.”


In addition to discussing how to improve the signature verification process for the future, he said, “I do think it’s important for us to take a closer look at the signatures related to this case.”

Jackvony said he believes the Board of Elections made the right decision on July 21. “Based on the evidence we had in front of us, it was absolutely the appropriate decision that we had at that time,” he said.

The board decided not to hear objections submitted by Don Carlson’s campaign because neither Carlson nor his campaign manager appeared, and another objection came in too late. But Jackvony said that even if the board had accepted those objections, Matos still would have had enough valid signatures to appear on the ballot, he said.


At the same time, Jackvony said he thought some of the criticism of the board was fair, and he said, “There is clearly room for improvement in the process.”

So he made a motion to direct Board of Elections staff to review all of the signatures for the papers submitted for Matos — “not just the ones in question but the entirety of all that paperwork and to validate those.”

The Board of Elections chairperson, Diane C. Mederos, objected to his motion, and said the board’s vote to certify the ballot ended the signature review process and any further review.

“In the past, we have pressed for more time to complete the certification process, but only the General Assembly can act to make that happen,” she said. “The board correctly referred this matter to the attorney general to investigate fraud. The board is not equipped to conduct a fraud investigation, thus the referral to the appropriate agency — the one that can bring fraud cases to court.”

Board of Elections member David H. Sholes agreed with Mederos, and said he doesn’t know what such a review would accomplish. He noted that Matos has qualified for the ballot with more than 700 signatures.

“All know right now is we’ve got about 12 — maybe 18 — people who said their signatures were forged,” he said. “That’s a very small amount. It’s not tantamount to widespread fraud.”


Sholes said the Board of Elections would be duplicating what the attorney general’s office and the State Police are doing in their investigation into potential fraud.

“Right now we have an election to run,” he said. “Early voting is starting next week. We have a small staff. We can’t take our resources and apply them to this investigation and not work on this election.” After the election, the board can revisit the matter to “see what was good and what was bad and, if necessary, make appropriate changes,” he said.

But Board of Elections member Jennifer L. Johnson said she thinks the board should have reviewed all the Matos signatures two weeks ago.

“Given the report of our executive director, this was unprecedented in the numbers: 18 to 20 egregiously fraudulent signatures is too many,” she said. “We were faced with something we never had before.”

Johnson backed the motion for a full review. “The voters deserve there not to be a cloud over this process,” she said.

Board of Elections member Louis A. DeSimone Jr. called for going even further by having the Board of Elections launch its own investigation into the matter. He said he is concerned that the attorney general’s investigation won’t conclude until after the election is over, and he is concerned that it will be limited to two of the people who collected signatures for Matos rather than all 11 people who gathered signatures.

DeSimone made a motion to have the Board of Elections lawyer issue subpoenas next week and to hold a hearing for each of the people who collected signatures for Matos. No other board members seconded that motion.


Attention has focused on suspect nomination forms submitted on Matos’ behalf by Providence resident Holly McClaren and Shanna Gallagher of East Providence. Matos has said she was the victim of “outrageous attempt to defraud” her campaign by a vendor headed by McClaren, Harmony Solutions. McClaren has said she did not forge the names on the nomination forms now under investigation.

After Tuesday’s board meeting, Matos campaign spokesperson Evan England issued a statement that said, “The Board of Elections and secretary of state determined that the campaign had more than enough signatures certified by the local boards of canvassers to ensure Lieutenant Governor Matos’ place on the ballot. Rhode Islanders deserve to have confidence in our democratic process. We too want to understand what transpired with our nomination papers and we look forward to hearing the results of this review.”

Carlson also issued a statement that said, “Kudos to the Board of Elections for responding to the will of the people by using its plenary authority to launch a full investigative review of the signatures submitted by the Matos campaign. When my campaign set this process in motion with our original challenge, this outcome was exactly the remedy we requested.”

“The (Board of Elections) debated the issue in full public view today — wisely mindful of Justice Brandeis’ admonition that ‘sunshine is the best of disinfectants,’” Carlson said. “The secret backroom meetings advocated by BOE’s legal counsel did serious damage to the public’s confidence in our elections. At a time when our democratic process is under regular attack by a former president and his minions, it is critical not to take shortcuts. The public’s business should be done in public.”


John M. Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, said the Board of Elections made the right decision, and he said, “They made that decision in the right way — after publicly debating the tradeoffs they face.”

“We won’t know how to fix this process moving forward unless we know the scope of the problem,” Marion said. “Today’s vote starts us on a path to determine what went wrong, and also what went right. While it’s unusual, if not unprecedented, to review signatures after the ballot has been finalized, it’s not unusual to review the performance of various parts of election administration after the fact for purposes of performance improvement. The board does that after every election with respect to things like the voting machines, lines at the polls, etc.”

Board of Elections executive director Robert Rapoza said the board staff will begin the review as soon as possible and he hopes to have it complete or nearly complete by the board meeting scheduled for next Tuesday.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.