NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — A flood of mail-in ballots in this year’s primary helped local candidates who favor a plan to move Narragansett’s library into the site of the former Belmont/IGA market.
Eight of the 10 Town Council candidates for the Nov. 3 general election have voiced support for the move, which has languished under the current council and spurred protests from supporters.
With final absentee and mail-in ballots from the Sept. 8 primary posted on the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s website last week, incumbent Jesse Pugh retained his position as the candidate with the most votes – 1,848, or 13.8 percent of votes cast.
Pugh led all candidates in the 16-person field on primary night with 710 votes, and picked up more than 1,100 votes through mail-in ballots.
The race for council in Narragansett is non-partisan, and the next council will include the five candidates with the most votes on Nov. 3.
Former council president Susan Cicilline Buonanno, who formed the Love Your Library group that sued the town last year to prevent a sale of the town-owned Belmont property, came in second with more than 12 percent of the votes, at 1,700.
The remaining top five candidates are incumbent councilor Patrick Murray (1,202 votes), Ewa M. Dzwierzynski (1,042 votes) and Deborah A. Kopech (852 votes), all of whom are on record as supporting the library’s move to the Belmont building.
Library Board of Trustees president Laurie Kelly finished sixth, with 804 votes, while incumbents council President Pro Tem Jill Lawler and councilor Rick Lema got 725 votes and 688 votes, respectively.
The mail-in votes helped Kelly gain about 500 votes, but they also knocked Lema from fourth place on primary night to eighth place. Lawler slipped from sixth to seventh place in the totals.
And strong mail showings by Dzwierzynski and Kopech knocked Joseph Robenhymer, Steven J. Ferrandi and Michael Millen, Jr. out of contention.
Lawler and Lema, along with current council President Matthew Mannix, have blocked several pro-Belmont measures put forth by Pugh and Murray over the past two years. The trio also voted in early 2019 to sell the Belmont building.
Mannix is out of the council equation though, after choosing to run for a state Senate seat.
Rounding out the 10 primary winners are Democratic Town Committee Chairman Winters B. Hames III and Steven Belaus, with 686 and 679 votes, respectively.
Millen had a promising lead on primary night, but just missed the cut once mail ballots were all counted.
“I did this to be a voice for everyone, and although my run ended short of my goal, my desire to help Narragansett is stronger than ever,” Millen told supporters. “I ran on my own convictions and know that I stayed true to myself, remaining independent of any political parties, and making my decisions based on facts and reason.”
Also eliminated from contention were David K. Avedisian, Meghan E. Murray and Sara L. Benn.
On the heels of the final primary results, Ferrandi filed a complaint with the state Board of Elections, questioning the validity of mail-in ballot applications provided through the Narragansett library.
Ferrandi said 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 gave the board 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 secretary of state’s website instead of the Board of Canvassers.
Ferrandi called the discrepancy “very alarming” at a Monday meeting of the Board of Elections. He also said it could account for his drop from eighth place on primary night to 14th place.
The board directed the Narragansett Board of Canvassers to investigate the matter and report its findings by early next month, before ballots for the Nov. 3 general election must be finalized.