CRANSTON, R.I. — The head of the state agency that runs Rhode Island’s elections will retire before voters cast their ballots in 2024.
Robert Rapoza, the executive director of the R.I. Board of Elections, plans to retire in 2024, spokesperson Chris Hunter confirmed.
Rapoza did not immediately comment further.
Hunter said Rapoza’s exit agreement is still being negotiated. His exact retirement date hasn’t been finalized, but will be before the election.
Voters go to the polls in April of next year for the presidential primary, followed by the statewide primary in September and the general election in November.
Rapoza has worked at the Board of Elections since 1997, and formally took the helm as executive director in 2017, replacing Robert Kando, who was fired the previous year. Rapoza helped oversee a significant change in how people vote, as Rhode Island expanded early voting, and the coronavirus pandemic dramatically increased the number of people voting by mail.
He also led the organization as it moved from Providence to larger offices in Cranston in 2020.
The Board of Elections is one of two state agencies that separately handle elections. The R.I. Secretary of State’s office handles the voter rolls and prepares ballots, while the Board of Elections runs the actual election, including managing the voting machines, collecting and tabulating the ballots, and certifying the results.
Last year, Rapoza took heat after the wrong candidate names were displayed during early voting on the Spanish-language version of the ballot in ExpressVote machines, the state’s new accessible voting machine.
The issue affected a small number of voters and was rectified, but resulted in finger-pointing between Rapoza and the secretary of state’s office about who was responsible for the error. (The machines in question are housed at the Board of Elections, which delivers them to polling places.)
John Marion, the executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island and frequent observer of the Board of Elections, said Rapoza “steadied the ship” after Kando’s “tumultuous exit.”
“Bob deserves credit for making sure there was some continuity when Kando was fired,” Marion said. “There have been some high profile hiccups during Bob Rapoza’s tenure, including the problems with the ExpressVote implementation … and this year’s controversy over Sabina Matos’ signatures. But Rapoza was a valuable transitional figure away from his predecessor, who was more of a political hire and less of an administrator.”
It is not yet clear who will replace Rapoza ahead of the next election cycle. Hunter said a search process would be initiated by the seven-member board.
Diane Mederos, the chair of the board, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Marion said the executive director is the “most crucial role in state election administration,” and noted that preparations for the April primary occur months in advance.
“Presidential elections are the highest stress years in election administration, so the board needs to be fully functioning,” he said. “Hopefully this transition can occur and the board is fully staffed before the 2024 elections begin.”
This story has been updated with comments from John Marion.