State to scrutinize Matos signatures in about-face decision

The Rhode Island Board of Elections, seven days after voting against a proposal to examine nomination signatures connected to Sabina Matos’ congressional campaign, reversed its decision.

The board voted 5-2 at its meeting Tuesday to review more than 1,200 signatures. Randall Jackvony, a Cranston Republican who was nominated to the board by Gov. Dan McKee in June, proposed the about-face. The reason was to ensure public trust.

“Perhaps some of our actions may have caused people to lose faith in the process,” Jackvony said. “I don’t think anyone us want that to happen … I do think it’s important for us to take a closer look at the signatures related to this case.”

Chairwoman Diane Mederos and Vice Chairman David Sholes voted against the motion.

“The ballots have been printed and mailed to overseas voters,” Mederos said.

“I don’t know what this is going to accomplish,” added Sholes.

The primaries are Sept. 5 and the special election is Nov. 7.

Jamestown has been prominently involved with this saga at every turn. Canvassing clerk Keith Ford was the first election official to flag a questionable signature, a dead person, which led to other cities and towns double-checking nomination forms submitted to them.

Ken Newman, a member of the local board of canvassers, then made the suspected forgeries public when he e-mailed the form with 16 invalidated signatures to Matos’ opponents. Newman, moreover, began a pressure campaign — acting as an individual, not in his officially capacity — to keep the controversy in the spotlight after the state board indicated reluctance to reverify the signatures.

“You have to give credit to the press for keeping the story in the news,” he said.

Jamestown resident Don Carlson, who is running against Matos for the Democratic nomination, was the first candidate to submit an official objection to the signatures. He applauded the reversal.

“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,” he said. “When my campaign set this process in motion with our original challenge, this outcome was exactly the remedy we requested.”

Newman also was pleased with the decision.

“I’ve very happy,” he said. “But this is far from over. This needs to lead to major reform.”

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the state board had meet behind closed doors in executive session to discuss the issue. Carlson said the decision to have the meeting open to the public Tuesday was “wisely mindful” of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ admonition that “sunshine is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

“The secret backroom meetings advocated by the board’s legal counsel did serious damage to the public’s confidence in our elections,” Carlson said. “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.”

The process to examine the Matos signatures began Wednesday. At the same time, a criminal investigation is being done by the attorney general’s office led by Jamestown resident Peter Neronha.