PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea announced late Friday her office will not certify the paperwork to put embattled Rep. John Carnevale’s name on the ballot until Providence officials settle a dispute over whether he actually lives in his district.
“The Providence Board of Canvassers is currently hearing a challenge to Representative Carnevale’s voter registration,” Nicole Lagace, a spokeswoman for Gorbea, said in an email. “Therefore, at this time the Department of State will withhold certification of Representative Carnevale’s nomination papers pending a decision by the Providence Board of Canvassers.”
The announcement came less than four hours after the Rhode Island Republican Party challenged the city’s certification of Carnevale’s nomination papers. The R.I. Board of Elections has scheduled a hearing on the challenge for Monday night.
“How can the board certify his nomination papers that he’s qualified to run for office if they haven’t ruled on his residency?” John Pagliarini, a state senator who is serving as the GOP’s lawyer in the Carnevale case, asked in an interview.
Speaking before Gorbea’s announcement, Evan England, a spokesman for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, said the canvassers were only certifying whether the voters who signed Carnevale’s nomination papers did so properly, not whether the lawmaker himself is eligible to run for his seat.
England said he was not aware of any specific timeline for the canvassers to make a decision about Carnevale’s residency. The challenge was filed in the wake of a Target 12 report that raised serious questions about whether the Providence Democrat actually lives at the address he claims; Carnevale maintains he does.
Carnevale’s lawyer, fellow state Rep. Robert Jacquard, was not immediately available for comment on Gorbea’s decision late Friday. When asked earlier in the day about the GOP challenge, he said: “We will respond to that just as we did in front of the Providence Board of Canvassers.”
Pagliarini also argued Gorbea herself has the legal authority to keep Carnevale off the ballot, noting a state law that says: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the secretary of state or the local board, as the case may be, from disqualifying a candidate based on the determination of the secretary of state or the local board, acting on its own motion, that the candidate is ineligible or the nomination papers or the signatures on them are invalid or insufficient.”
Thursday was the deadline for cities and towns to give the secretary of state their lists of candidates who qualified for the ballot, and a list provided by Gorbea’s office shows Carnevale made the cut and received the Democratic Party endorsement for re-election. Three other Democrats – Anthony Defilippo, Ramon Perez and Lisa Scorpio – qualified to challenge Carnevale in the Sept. 13 primary election.
Pagliarini said the Republicans filed the new challenge over Carnevale’s nomination papers “to protect ourselves” as the deadline to print ballots for the primary draws closer. The GOP has received no updates from the Providence Board of Canvassers on when it plans to render a decision in the Carnevale case, he said. Any decision could then be appealed to the R.I. Board of Elections.
House Minority Leader Brian Newberry, R-North Smithfield, said Friday he thinks Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and other Democratic leaders should take stronger action in the Carnevale matter. (Mattiello was out of the country and unavailable for comment earlier this week.)
“If the state Democratic Party wanted to distance itself, they could go out and endorse one of the many opponents that are running against him,” Newberry said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.
“The whole thing is so absurd,” Newberry added. “There is not a person in this state that believes anything the man has said since this all broke.”
Dan McGowan contributed to this report.