Last night, Tiverton’s Board of Canvassers decided that it had the authority to pick and choose what voters could vote on based on their feelings about it. The Town Council is hostile to the resolutions, and the town solicitor, who serves in his $98,000-a-year position at the pleasure of the Town Council, told the canvassers that they might face a complaint if voters passed the resolutions.
Never mind that the board was nearly certain to face complaints for blocking the resolutions and the solicitor couldn’t say which lawsuits would be more likely to win. The canvassers chose to disenfranchise electors rather than do something that the Town Council didn’t want.
As I write on Tiverton Fact Check:
This is the Board of Canvassers. They’re supposed to be completely neutral referees making sure that all sides in a political dispute have equal access to the ballot. In this case, the Town Solicitor — who has $98,000-plus reasons to do whatever the Town Council wants him to do — said people might file complaints against the town if voters agreed with the resolutions, and the Board of Canvassers decided to take the vote away from them.
It would be hard to overstate how shocking that is. Tiverton’s Home Rule Charter states that “All… Elector Resolutions shall be included on the ballot for the Financial Town Referendum and presented at the Financial Town Hearing provided that they are accompanied by 50 qualified elector signatures.” There is absolutely no dispute that the resolutions the Board of Canvassers blocked had 50 signatures and followed the process in every way, because they followed the same process and had almost identical signatures as other resolutions that were not blocked.
Once again, government officials in Rhode Island show their belief that the law is whatever they say it is at any given moment. Hopefully, a judge will conclude differently.