Officials demand answers after ‘historic failure’ on Election Day

Officials demand answers after ‘historic failure’ on Election Day

Gorbea agrees that problems were ‘unacceptable’

PAWTUCKET – City officials say they won’t soon forget the “historic failure” of the 2016 election in Pawtucket, saying they don’t want to see the interminable lines and disenfranchisement of voters ever again.

The City Council is asking the Rhode Island Secretary of State and Board of Elections for an explanation of what happened in Pawtucket, which saw the worst of the problems across the state on voting day.

Councilor Mark Wildenhain said the problems were consistent all day, with people waiting five minutes to vote and then two hours or more to get that vote registered by putting it through the machine. In some polling locations, residents ripped up their ballots and left, he said. Police nearly needed to break up a fistfight at the St. Cecilia Church polling place.

“The only thing this system did for the residents was encourage them not to exercise their rights in the future,” said Wildenhain, later adding, “It really is unacceptable.”

Wildenhain requested a letter asking state elections officials to investigate “the areas that were not successful and assure us that’s not going to happen again.”

No one who works an eight-hour day should have to worry about spending two hours just to vote, said Wildenhain.

“It’s not a system that’s fixed, it’s a system that’s broken,” he said.

Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said in a statement Monday that “the delays experienced in Pawtucket on election day were unacceptable.”

“I look forward to working with the Board of Elections to ensure that any issues are addressed and that elections are fair, fast, and accurate,” she said in a statement.

A spokeswoman said Gorbea was planning to send a full response to the City Council on Tuesday.

Councilor Terry Mercer said he was also upset over the long waits, saying it was “absolutely unacceptable” and an “asinine decision” to have one scanning machine in each city precinct. Leaders have focused so much on voter ID and not disenfranchising people, said Mercer, yet there was “nothing more disenfranchising” than last Tuesday, where many voters were heard muttering under their breath and then walking away.

“I think the voters in Pawtucket deserve a response,” he said.

Councilor John Barry said officials went out of their way to urge people to participate in the process, and then had to answer constituents’ frustrations from the polling places.

“State government disenfranchised people,” he said.

Barry said he doesn’t know if any elections were impacted locally, but said it was still not acceptable to “put people through the agony” of that election.

Council President David Moran said he was “extremely upset,” especially after his daughter waited two hours at Curtis School and then had to leave for work without voting.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said, and a “total embarrassment for the secretary of state’s office.” He said he was “surprised and shocked and disappointed” in state officials’ handling of the election. He said he wants an explanation on if there was a contingency plan in place and on what will be done to improve the process.

Councilor Sandra Cano said it seemed like some poll workers weren’t adequately trained on how polls were supposed to be managed. Disabled residents and people with children are supposed to have their own line, she said, yet they had no such expedited process available to them. Poll workers need to have better training that “everyone has a right to vote,” she said.