A voter filed a complaint with the Providence Board of Canvassers alleging her mail ballot was tampered with by supporters of Rep. John DeSimone, an incumbent legislator who lost in the Democratic primary for the District 5 House seat and is subsequently staging a write-in campaign.
Joanne St. Lawrence, who is 55 years old, disabled and does not drive, said three people came to her home on Phoebe Street to collect her mail ballot. She was expecting someone from the campaign of her preferred candidate, Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, who upset DeSimone in the primary. Instead, St. Lawrence says she was greeted by DeSimone supporters.
“They asked me if I had filled in for John DeSimone,” St. Lawrence told RI Future. “I said no. They said, ‘did you vote for Marcia?’ I said yes.”
That’s when one of them asked St. Lawrence for an eraser, she said. When erasing her ballot failed – St. Lawrence filled it out in pen – one of the people, “took it and wrote his name in. They had me sign it and they both signed it,” St. Lawrence said.
She said she knew something wasn’t right, but didn’t know how to stop the people from changing her ballot. “I wasn’t thinking clearly,” St. Lawrence said. “I just woke up.”
“I’m really concerned about this,” she told RI Future. “My vote is supposed to count.”
The Providence Board of Canvassers confirmed St. Lawrence filed a complaint with their office Wednesday. Kathy Placencia, the administrator of elections for the board, said she sent the complaint to the state Board of Elections. The state Board of Elections declined to comment. Bob Rapoza, the acting director, did not return several phone calls over several days.
St. Lawrence said she was told the Board of Elections would consider her complaint today. While the Board does meet today, no agenda lists her complaint specifically. An agenda says the Board will meet today at 2pm and “may” certify mail ballots. The agenda says, “Any individual seeking to represent a candidate or party during the mail certification process must submit written authorization from the represented party or candidate prior to appearing before the board, pursuant to Rhode Island General Laws Section l7-22-2″
UPDATE: Rapoza returned RI Future’s call shortly after this post was published. He said the complaint process will start at the Providence Board of Canvassers. He said his office did receive a copy of the complaint from the Board of Canvassers. “I have no comment on how this would work at this time,” Rapoza said.
On the advice of the Ranglin Vassell campaign, St. Lawrence said she plans to request a provisional ballot on election day. “If my [mail] ballot doesn’t show up, they have to take that,” St. Lawrence said. “So hopefully it doesn’t show up or hopefully they will see that it was changed.”
She said she is also considering filing criminal charges. The people who took her ballot signed it as witnesses, St. Lawrence said, but she does not know if they signed their actual names.
St. Lawrence said she is supporting Ranglin-Vassell because “she’s on the same level as a lot of people in the neighborhood. I don’t know who this John DeSimone is.”