NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The Board of Canvassers in Narragansett has concluded that the way mail-in ballot applications for the primary election were provided through the Maury Loontjens Library wouldn’t change the election’s outcome.
The board voted Oct. 13 to end an informal inquiry it began after Town Council primary candidate Steven Ferrandi questioned the validity of mail-in ballot applications from the library. Ferrandi took his complaint first to the state Board of Elections, which directed that the local board look into the matter.
Assistant Town Solicitor Andrew Berg took the role of investigator in the complaint. Berg’s investigation entailed reviewing documents and laws that could be relevant to the complaint, as well as interviewing Ferrandi and personnel at the library.
In the end, his probe found “no evidence of willful or material violations that would rise to the level required to disturb the results of the election.”
Ferrandi claims patrons who asked for a ballot application at the library were only given a form for the non-partisan council ballot, rather than also being offered Republican and Democrat ballot applications.
Ferrandi also showed an Aug. 13 notice from the town clerk to the library staff indicating that the library was providing the wrong mail ballot form and an incorrect link to it on its website. The link directed patrons to a page on the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s website instead of the Board of Canvassers.
Narragansett’s council and School Committee elections are non-partisan. Candidates who receive the 10 highest vote totals in the primary are guaranteed a general election ballot spot.
Ferrandi, the business development manager for Dayco Products LLC, said the alleged actions could account for his drop from eighth place on primary night to 14th place, costing him a spot on Nov. 3’s general election ballot.
Berg said state law provides that any elector “may obtain” rather than “shall obtain” a ballot application from the local Board of Canvassers, a gray area.
“In this case, the library at one point posted on their website a link to the secretary of state to get a mail ballot application,” Berg said. “Also in the library itself, a Narragansett voter could walk in and get a paper version.”
The applications at the library were for the nonpartisan mail-in ballot and did not include the partisan ballot application, Ferrandi claimed.
“They were denied that opportunity, that’s the complaint,” Berg said. He said there was no evidence any applications were tampered with.
Berg met with library director Patti Arkwright and library Board of Trustees President Laurie Kelly, who is also on the ballot as a Town Council candidate and who has campaigned for two town ballot questions supporting a new library at the former Belmont/IGA building.
“They acknowledge that, yes, early on they were not giving out both versions of the mail ballot application,” Berg said. Library personnel told Berg no more than a half-dozen of the nonpartisan applications were picked up by voters from the library.
“Mr. Ferrandi is alleging voters were disenfranchised. Perhaps there might be something there, but there’s no evidence that would have affected the Town Council primary,” Berg said. “But there was a mistake made. There’s also the suggestion that the library should not be in the business of giving out mail ballot applications.”
Arkwright gave Berg a July letter from the secretary of state’s office urging library directors to make mail ballot applications available because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you look at the letter, it’s basically asking libraries to give out applications,” he said.
Ferrandi also suggested there was pro-library political activity taking place in the library, but Berg said he found no evidence of that. He also found no evidence of voter fraud.
Ferrandi said on Oct. 13 that he has a right to appeal to the state Board of Elections, and asked for a written report from Berg or the local board.
“We don’t know how many (applications) were handed out or downloaded,” he said