- Associated Press - Monday, October 27, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - The mayoral campaign of Democrat Jorge Elorza on Monday formally asked elections officials to apply heightened scrutiny to mail ballots after allegations of ballot tampering favoring Buddy Cianci by two police officers at the state’s largest homeless shelter.

In a letter to Robert Kando, executive director of the state Board of Elections, Elorza campaign co-chairman Philip West asks the board to apply extra scrutiny to ballots filed from the same address and to use its authority to “fully investigate any and all allegations of ballot tampering and voter fraud and ensure a fair, safe and legal election.”

Kando said on Monday he has told several board members of the Elorza campaign’s request and will alert all of them before the ballots are certified.

“Although they pay close attention already, they’ll pay especially close attention to them,” Kando said.

He said the board reviews every mail ballot to make sure its inner envelope is signed by the voter and either a notary or two witnesses. The inner envelope containing the ballot is then put into a second envelope before it is submitted, he said. But it would not be apparent whether the inner envelope was sealed before or after it was signed, Kando said.

The certification process for Providence ballots could start as soon as Thursday. It is open to the public and representatives from the campaigns, Kando said.

The Providence Journal reported last week that two men had gone into Crossroads Rhode Island with a list of about 40 names to collect mail ballots. Shelter resident Francis McKenna told the newspaper that one of the men had earlier helped him apply for a mail ballot and urged him to support Cianci for mayor. On Wednesday, after McKenna said he had not yet filled out his ballot, one of the men allegedly asked him to turn over his blank ballot, which is a felony.

Providence Police spokeswoman Lindsay Lague confirmed on Monday that the men were off-duty officers. Deputy Police Chief Thomas F. Oates III told the Journal they have been identified as a patrolman and sergeant. He said the department has put on hold an internal investigation until state police completes a criminal probe.

The police union has endorsed Cianci, an independent, in the race. Union President Taft Manzotti said Monday he had not been notified that any officers were involved in the incident.

State Police Lt. Col. Todd Catlow said his agency also has had conversations with the board during the last few days. He said they also have been communicating about a second incident in which a Democratic state representative who supports Elorza was videotaped outside a senior housing complex with what appeared to be a ballot. Rep. Scott Slater, a notary public, said he did nothing out of the ordinary and was there to notarize the ballot of a constituent.

Cianci said in a statement last week that he was unaware of ballot tampering and would not tolerate such actions by his campaign volunteers. When asked on Monday whether the Cianci campaign had been in touch with the board about the extra scrutiny and whether the campaign thinks it is necessary, Cianci spokeswoman Beryl Kenyon said she would get back to The Associated Press. The campaign has not yet said whether its volunteers were working at Crossroads to collect mail ballots.

It is not the first time Cianci campaign workers have been accused of ballot rigging. In the 1980s, a Providence Journal investigation found Cianci supporters had abused the mail ballot law so extensively that it may have swung the outcome of his 1982 election.

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Information from: The Providence Journal, https://www.providencejournal.com

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