Frias won’t accept Mattiello win without investigation of mail ballots

Board of Elections expected to finish counting mail ballots Thursday afternoon

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s Republican opponent Steven Frias said Thursday he’s not prepared to accept today’s R.I. Board of Elections count of mail ballots in their race until there has been an investigation into the possibility of fraud.

“It’s becoming clearer to me that the Mattiello campaign may have engaged in mail-ballot fraud, and that the Board of Elections needs to investigate this issue before they certify or count any of these ballots,” Frias told Eyewitness News.

In making the allegations, Frias cited a Providence Journal story about Larry Winkler, a voter who said he was intimidated by the Mattiello campaign while completing a mail ballot, as well as other information he has received.

Frias’s campaign filed a formal complaint with the board on Thursday and unsuccessfully sought to suspend the ballot-counting. The board said it plans to issue uncertified vote totals later Thursday, and will take up any further challenges or recount requests on Wednesday.

“Let’s say the mail ballots were counted today and showed Speaker Mattiello prevailing,” Frias said before the meeting. “Based on the credible information provided by Mr. Winkler and some information I’ve received recently, I don’t think I could accept it, because I believe that there is some illegal behavior in relation to the mail ballots, and I think it needs to be investigated first.”

“Once it’s fully investigated, then we can go from there,” Frias said.

Election Day results showed Mattiello trailing Frias by 147 votes, but the speaker’s campaign has expressed confidence that he will win the race once the mail ballots are counted. The Board of Elections is scheduled to begin tabulating those around noon Thursday and hopes to finalize the numbers by 4 p.m.

Mattiello spokeswoman Patti Doyle responded to Frias in a statement: “The attempt by Republican Steve Frias to interrupt and delay the counting of the ballots of the District 15 election is an effort to disenfranchise over 700 votes of the people he sought to represent. His goal is to prevent Nick Mattiello from having a Democratic Party Caucus tonight at the cost of disenfranchising the entire district.”

“He should respect the will of the voters of District 15 and not try to stop their voices from being heard,” Doyle said.

Mattiello has called a caucus of House Democrats for 7 p.m. Thursday to select a new legislative leadership team, under the assumption he will win re-election and continue as speaker.

North Kingstown Rep. Bob Craven, one of those mentioned as a possible new House majority leader, said he expects Warwick Rep. Joe Shekarchi to get the job, but wasn’t certain if that would be Mattiello’s final decision.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes The Saturday Morning Post and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram