2008-02-28 / Front Page

Every vote counts in state presidential primary

By Adrienne Downing

Usually by the time the Rhode Island presidential primary takes place on the first Tuesday in March, the nation has a fairly clear idea of who the front-runners are in each political party. This year, Rhode Island voters may have an opportunity to be a deciding factor in one of the closest races in recent history.

"The candidates are usually pretty much chosen by the time we get to vote," Jamestown Canvassing Clerk Karen Montoya said. "This year is historical because we may play a pivotal role, especially in the Democratic party."

Jamestowners will cast their vote at one polling station during Tuesday's election, a decision that was made before the close race made the idea of a high voter turnout a likelihood.

"The state mandates that we have all three polling places open for any election. The only exception to this is the primary election. We are allowed to combine polling places to save money based on what the state thinks the voter turnout will be," Montoya said. "For this election, we have been allowed to go down to one poll at the Community Center." She will keep more than the minimum number of poll workers, however, to minimize delays. Voters may cast their ballots between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Anyone who has any unforeseen circumstances that may keep them from Tuesday's polls has until Monday to request an emergency ballot.

The open primary system in Rhode Island requires voters who have registered as a Republican or Democrat to vote for a candidate in their affiliated party. "Unaffiliated voters will declare which party they are affiliating with for this election when they present themselves at the polling place," Montoya said. "They will be given a ballot from their chosen party with the names of that party's candidates and delegates. They will remain affiliated with the party of their choice unless they disaffiliate when they leave the polling place."

One sometimes confusing part of the presidential primary process is election of delegates along with the presidential candidate.

In the Democratic party, voters must choose a delegate to represent them at the national convention that is affiliated with their candidate choice. "For example, if someone votes for Barrack Obama, they must choose a delegate that has committed themselves to vote for him at the convention. If they vote for a delegate that is not committed to their candidate choice, the computer will not accept their vote," Montoya said.

The Republican party, however, is winner-take-all for the delegate count, so voters may choose any candidate and any delegate on the Republican ticket, although delegates may have declared themselves for a certain candidate.

To be eligible to be on the ballot, delegates must first collect 150 signatures of registered voters from their district. They must then be taken to the town offices of each town represented on the petition for verification. "If, for instance, I had only one signature from someone whose address is listed as Woonsocket, I would have to go to the Woonsocket offices and get that one signature verified," island resident Deb Ruggiero said. Ruggiero is a delegate committed to Hillary Clinton.

After the signatures have been verified, the delegates participate in a lottery at the Secretary of State's office to determine their placement on the ballot.

Republican Daniel Capuano is one of two Jamestown residents who will be on the ballot for John McCain. This is Capuano's first time as a delegate and he is excited about the opportunity.

"I feel like this is so patriotic and I would be honored to represent the people of Rhode Island for John McCain at the national convention," Capuano said.

Voters with any questions about Tuesday's election should contact Montoya at 423-7200, or by e-mail at kmontoya@ jamestownri.net.

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