PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Board of Elections on Wednesday voted to move forward with certifying Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello as the winner of his re-election race despite accusations from his Republican challenger Steven Frias that the speaker’s campaign misused mail ballots.
However, the board also ordered its staff to conduct an investigation into the allegations against Mattiello, with the assistance of the Rhode Island State Police if necessary – meaning the speaker and his team are not yet out of the woods.
Still, the board’s decision did not fulfill the Republicans’ request for a full investigation into how mail ballots were used in the race or for a formal delay in certifying Mattiello as the winner. Mattiello’s lawyer, Michael DiChiro, said he considered the board’s decision “a victory” for the speaker.
Yet Frias also expressed hope about what will happen next. “I am pleased that they are investigating my complaint,” he said. “I am hopeful that the Board of Elections investigation will demonstrate that there were mail-ballot violations – criminal violations of Rhode Island’s mail-ballot laws.”
Unofficial results show Mattiello with a 74-vote lead over Frias thanks to a sizable advantage among voters who used mail ballots.
Frias’s campaign has alleged irregularities in those mail ballots by citing the account of Larry Winkler – a Cranston voter who told The Providence Journal he was intimidated by a Mattiello volunteer who brought him a mail ballot to fill out – as well as an anonymous tip Frias received.
R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell argued that certifying the election without a full investigation would amount to “handing down the verdict without having the trial.” But DiChiro, speaking for Mattiello, argued there was no clear evidence and the Republicans wanted to pursue “a fishing expedition.”
Raymond Marcoccio, the board’s legal counsel, said holding up the certification of the election results as Frias had requested would amount to an “extraordinary” move and the Republicans had failed to “give a factual basis for this board to do so.”
“It’s not extraordinary,” Bell replied. Reviewing roughly 700 mail ballots “could be done in very little time,” he said.
The Board of Elections has not yet announced when it will certify the results of this year’s election, but it could do so as soon as next week. The board first must complete recounts in six races, including the Mattiello-Frias contest, that were authorized on Wednesday evening.
Separately, a Rhode Island State Police spokesman said Wednesday the agency has not received any complaint so far related to the Frias’s charges against the Mattiello campaign.