Despite losing the ballot-box count on election night, Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello stood in front of his supporters and declared victory in the race for the Rhode Island House District 15 seat. “We’ll be up conservatively 300,” he said. With the Board of Elections wrapping up its mail-ballot count, last night, the speaker did win, but with only a 65-vote margin.
Mattiello’s spokeswoman, Patti Doyle, explained, “Part of the campaign strategy was to encourage our supporters to vote early.” It is true that the District 15 precincts in Cranston experienced a higher percentage of mail ballots in the citywide race for mayor, but not by much. In District 15, 9.3% of all votes for mayor were mail ballots, compared with 7.6% citywide. However, that difference would only account for 121 votes, while Mattiello’s margin of victory in mail ballots was 212.
The mail ballot results in those precincts are also interesting. Overall, Mattiello lost at the ballot box with 47.5% of the vote, but won in mail ballots with 63.4%. Curiously, the strongest precinct for Republican challenger Steven Frias (706) also showed the biggest swing in mail ballots. Frias won the precinct with 54.9% of the vote at the ballot box, but lost in mail ballots with only 26.8%.
Moreover, the ballot-versus-mail swings were nowhere near as dramatic in other races. Republican President-Elect Donald Trump and Republican Mayor Allan Fung performed four and six percentage points worse in mail ballots, but Frias performed 17 percentage points worse.
In short, on the numbers alone, Mattiello’s win ought to raise suspicions. Add in Mattiello’s election-night confidence and indications of inappropriate handling and influence with mail ballots — not to mention the sheer power of the Rhode Island speakership — and the matter clearly deserves a thorough investigation.
More broadly, Rhode Islanders should consider the handling of a voting process that can differ so dramatically from the ballot box, whether because it is vulnerable to fraud or subject to direct involvement of powerful campaigns with each voter.