Why this year’s special elections in Providence fall on a Wednesday

From left to right, Daniel Chaika, Nirva LaFortune, Dave Lallier and Mark Santow. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – When voters on the East Side of Providence head to the polls today for the special City Council Democratic primary in Ward 3, they might be wondering: aren’t elections typically held on Tuesdays?

The answer is yes, but there is no state law or city ordinance that requires elections to take place on a Tuesday. In fact, state law only forbids elections from being held on a religious holiday or Saturday.

So why are both the Ward 3 primary and general election scheduled for Wednesdays? The simple answer: holidays.

Let’s start from the general election and work our way back. Providence’s Home Rule Charter requires that a special election be set within 90 days of a declared vacancy on the City Council. The City Council declared recalled Councilman Kevin Jackson’s seat vacant on May 22. The 90th day would have been a Sunday. So cross that out.

Aug. 15 would be the closest Tuesday within that 90-day period, but Aug. 14 is Victory Day, a city holiday. The days before both the primary and general elections are mandatory work days for the Board of Canvassers because it’s the last day for voters to cast emergency ballots. If the city set a special election for Aug. 15, it would have been forced to pay overtime to anyone who worked on Victory Day. So the general election date was set for Wednesday, Aug. 16.

When it comes to special primaries, voters are supposed to head to the polls no fewer than 30 days before the general election. A primary set for 30 days before the Aug. 16 general would have fallen on Monday, July 17. But that would mean city employees would have been paid overtime on Sunday, July 16. So they set the primary for Wednesday, July 12.

Now that we got that out of the way, here’s who is running: today’s primary – there are 9,452 registered Democrats or independents who are eligible to vote –  is between Brown University employee Nirva LaFortune, Providence School Board member Mark Santow and attorney Daniel Chaika. The winner will take on Republican Dave Lallier Jr. and independent Chris Reynolds in the general election.

To learn more about the candidates, check out this 12-question survey LaFortune, Santow, Chaika and Lallier filled out for Eyewitness News.

Polling locations include Summit Commons, Nathan Bishop Middle School and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School and the Providence Hebrew Day School on Elmgrove Avenue. Polls close at 8 p.m.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan