R.I. rarity Tuesday: a presidential primary that matters

R.I. rarity Tuesday: a presidential primary that matters

Extra poll workers ready at local balloting sites

CUMBERLAND – Against the backdrop of an aggressive push by Republican Donald Trump to snare enough delegates to avoid a contested GOP convention this summer, Rhode Islanders are getting a rare chance to actually influence who the nominated candidate will be.

Meanwhile, Democrat Bernie Sanders, though falling behind, continues to challenge front-runner Hillary Clinton.

That means that Cumberland’s Democrats, Republicans and independents all get a chance Tuesday to cast votes in a primary that in past years was already decided by states voting earlier.

Town Clerk Sandra Giovanelli said she had pared polling places down to just three, long before knowing the state’s voting would be significant, but she remains confident that with extra poll workers, all should go smoothly.

Polling places for Cumberland voters open at 7 a.m. in just three locations:

• Chimney Hill Apartments, which also includes voters who usually vote at Cumberland High School, the Cumberland Hill Elementary School and Cumberland Hill fire station.

• Diamond Hill Ski Lodge, which also includes those generally voting at Mercymount, Bear Hill Village, Community School, and Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

• Cumberland Public Library, also including voters from McCourt Middle School, Fatima Parish Hall and One Mendon Road Housing.

The majority of Cumberland’s residents are listed as unaffiliated and eligible to vote on either side of the ballot – Democratic or Republican. A form for disaffiliating again is available before leaving the polling place. According to Giovanelli, Republicans claim 2,650 Cumberland voters, Democrats 10,563 and unaffiliated, 12,792. The town’s 99 Moderate Party members are excluded from either primary.

Because Rhode Island’s primary is open to all unaffiliated voters, there have been wide swings in Cumberland’s presidential primary participation over the years.

In 2012, 710 people voted – 208 Democrats, who had only incumbent President Obama on the ballot, and 502 Republicans, who gave 69 percent of their votes to Mitt Romney.

In 2008, more than 10 times as many people went to the polls, with 7,184 Democrats largely supporting Hillary Clinton against Obama and 891 Republicans mostly choosing John McCain.

In 2004, 1,185 Cumberland residents voted, nearly all of them Democrats who gave John Kerry a wide margin of victory. Just 48 Republicans voted in a competition that offered just President Bush.

Tuesday’s voters are, as political news coverage has made clear, not choosing the candidate, but rather choosing delegates who will go on to choose the actual party candidate.

The ballots for Republicans and Democrats are very different and can be reviewed in advance at sos.ri.gov/vic/ . This site also includes voters’ party status and where to vote.

Town and city clerks are reporting that the disaffiliation issue is already generating phone calls of concern. The last day to disaffiliate in time for the presidential primary was back on Jan. 27, but some voters are just discovering, the clerks say, that they’ve blocked themselves from voting for a favorite candidate by not disaffiliating after voting in a previous primary.

Potential candidates for upcoming local partisan races are reminded that even after disaffiliating, they remain in the party they vote with for 90 days and cannot file for office with the opposite party.

The ballots list all who collected enough qualifying signatures in Rhode Island. On the Republican side, in order, that’s Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, uncommitted.

On the Democratic side, in order, that’s Mark Stewart, Bernie Sanders, uncommitted, Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, and Hillary Clinton.

Republican Marco Rubio and his delegates remain on the ballot because he dropped out too late to be removed, according to state GOP Chairman Brandon Bell.

After choosing a candidate, voters may choose delegates if they wish. And in some cases, there are more delegate candidates than openings. Voters in both parties are reminded that if they choose more than the allowed number, then all choices will be disqualified.

On the Democratic side, voters Tuesday will be choosing 15 of the 33 delegates, awarded proportionally, who will represent Rhode Island Democrats at the national convention. The others are nine super-delegates committed to Clinton, six at-large chosen by the state committee at a June 12 meeting, and three elected officials also chosen by the committee.

Republicans are choosing 16 of 19 delegates who will be awarded by percentage of votes received within each of the two congressional delegates. Candidates must win at least 10 percent to be awarded any delegates.

Since no one candidate is likely to sweep all the delegates, Republicans allow voters to pick and choose among long lists of delegate candidates supporting various candidates, provided the total doesn’t exceed 10.

Congressional partywoman Lee Ann Sennick said it’s an effort “to give voters more of a voice.” Only Republicans allow this.

Also representing the Rhode Island GOP are three who are party leaders who must vote according to the state’s preference on the first round, as well as three congressional delegates chosen by voters.