Missing ballots briefly delay Mattiello recount

Final tally gives Democratic House speaker a slim 85-vote victory over GOP's Frias

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Board of Elections was temporarily stymied Monday in its recount of the race between Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Republican challenger Steven Frias after some ballots went missing.

In the end, though, the recount confirmed Mattiello’s victory, giving him a slim lead of 85 votes out of more than 7,000 cast. The election results are expected to be formally certified by the board next week.

A separate recount also showed former Central Falls Mayor Thomas Lazieh won a seat on the City Council by a single vote.

In a statement, Mattiello said he was “pleased” by the results, and promised “to continue to work hard on issues of concern to my constituents, most notably reduction and eventual elimination of the onerous car tax.”

At one point during Monday’s recount, the board discovered that 208 fewer votes were counted for House District 15 than were counted initially. After a search, Cranston registrar Steven Sepe said the missing ballots had been put in a different box because the others were full, and that box was mislabeled.

Diane Mederos, the Board of Elections’ vice chair, said the ballot issue was an honest mistake.

“I have the utmost confidence in the results of this election and I know that I can say that with sincerity,” she said. “We have some really great people here who know their jobs, and I’m very confident with the results of the election.”

R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell, who was on hand for the recounts Monday, expressed concern about the chain of custody for the ballots in District 15 after the issue with the missing ones came to light.

“I only raise the question of chain of custody because I don’t know who’s bringing the ballots over, I don’t know what the seal looked like,” Bell said. “I don’t want to start conspiracy theories but I think people can draw their own conclusions.”

On Twitter, Common Cause Rhode Island executive director John Marion said municipalities maintain possession of ballots completed at polling places “unless they’re needed by the [Board of Elections] for [a] recount.”

Frias has separately alleged that Mattiello’s team misused mail ballots during the campaign, and last week the board instructed its staff to look into the matter.

A lawyer for Mattiello has repeatedly expressed confidence that his lead is secure.