McKenna slams Board of Elections for keeping him off ballot

McKenna slams Board of Elections for keeping him off ballot

LINCOLN – There will be no primary election for Senate District 17 next week, as Republican incumbent Thomas Paolino prepares to face Democrat Dennis Lavallee in November, but a second Democrat is still making his case to be on the ballot.

The Board of Elections met on Aug. 22 to hear and vote on a petition by Keven McKenna, a former attorney who made a constitutional argument in defense of his right to appear on the ballot along with Paolino and Lavallee.

A resident of Lincoln, McKenna declared his intent to run for District 17 in June. The Senatorial Democratic District Committee gave McKenna its endorsement and the would-be candidate returned his paperwork to the town clerk, but he was disqualified from the election when he failed to turn over any signatures, according to both the local clerk’s office and Office of the Secretary of State.

McKenna said he was not required to gather signatures as the endorsed candidate. He assumed he would be included on the ballot until he read in the newspaper that his name would not appear. When he brought the case before the Board of Elections, members voted 5-0 to deny his request to be placed on the ballot.

“It came down to not obtaining the requested signatures,” said Miguel Nunez of the Board of Elections.

McKenna said the state constitution, which promises all citizens equal protection and due process of law, trumps any statute requiring gathering signatures.

“The Board of Elections is not a court, but they are bound to the due process clause and equal protection clause. I am not getting equal protection,” McKenna told The Breeze, adding that the purpose of an election is to select between more than one candidate. “The board misunderstood the statute. If you read the statute, it says an endorsed person doesn’t need the signatures. They decided that I had to get the signatures and the endorsement, which is an additional burden.”

McKenna said every person in public service should read the state’s constitution.

“I tried to explain it to the board. I was frustrated … they didn’t want me to talk more than five minutes,” he said. “I think that board should be eliminated by their behavior. They are not a court.”

McKenna has since served copies of the case to the Rhode Island Supreme Court and state elections officials, but had not heard back as of press time.

“I could have gotten 100 signatures, that’s not the issue,” he said. “You can’t get due process and equal protection by getting signatures door to door. This is not a case about numbers, it’s about principle.”