Board of Canvassers: Too many voters missing back of ballot

Board of Canvassers: Too many voters missing back of ballot

WOONSOCKET – The Woonsocket Board of Canvassers is working to address a problem that might seem strange to some voters, though according to Board of Canvassers Manager Michael Narducci, it’s not unique to the city.

Narducci estimates that in the 2020 election, 17 percent of Woonsocket voters did not vote for the items listed on the back of the ballot. That’s nearly a fifth of all city residents who submitted a ballot on or before Nov. 3.

It’s not entirely clear why so many voters neglected to fill out the reverse side. Narducci acknowledged it’s possible many of these voters were not interested in voting for the items on the back of the ballot. This past November, the reverse side included an uncontested race for School Committee and a referendum question on whether Rhode Island should drop “and Providence Plantations” from its official state name.

But the simplest explanation is that many voters simply don’t turn over the ballot.

“You do see it,” Narducci said. “People go there, they vote the ballot, they don’t bother turning it over.”

Narducci said it’s not simply an issue in Woonsocket. He looked at numbers from other communities and found that many were dealing with the same problem. In Cumberland, he estimates, 7 percent of voters did not fill out the reverse side of the ballot. In Pawtucket, he estimates, 14 percent, and in West Warwick, 12 percent. In Central Falls, he said, close to 30 percent of voters did not fill out the back of the ballot.

Coming up with those numbers was not an easy task. Rhode Island state law allows residents to register to vote for president on Election Day, which means some voters receive a ballot that does not include state and local races, including those on the back. To come up with the estimates, Narducci said he subtracted the number of presidential-only ballots from the total votes for president and then compared the result to the number of votes cast on the back of the ballot. Complicating the issue is the fact that some races, like City Council and School Committee, allow for multiple votes.

Last week, Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt brought concerns over the issue to the city’s Board of Canvassers, addressing it during a meeting last Thursday, Jan. 7. After the conversation, Narducci said board members voted to send a letter to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea laying out their concerns and asking her office to consider increasing the size of the box that notifies voters about the reverse side or at least graying it out to make it more noticeable. Decisions regarding ballot design, he said, are made on the state level.

In the same meeting, he said, Baldelli-Hunt also raised concerns about the Kennedy Manor polling place. During the Nov. 3 election, Narducci explained, poll workers asked residents to exit the building before reentering in order to prevent crowds in the hallways, leading to some confusion on the voting procedure. In the future, he said, the board plans to work with the Woonsocket Housing Authority to ensure residents are aware of any changes in procedures ahead of time.

During the same meeting, the board also voted to open four polling places during the upcoming special referenda election on March 2. Instead of voting at their usual polling place, voters will be invited to vote at either Leo Savoie Elementary School, Harris Elementary School, Kennedy Manor or Monsignor Gadoury School, with all registered voters able to vote at any of the four locations. Narducci said the election, organized to consider state bond measures that never made it to the November ballot, is expected to draw low voter turnout.

“We’re looking at kind of a turnout maybe like the presidential primary was,” he said. “The state’s saying maybe 12 to 15 percent.”

Pending state board approval, voters can expect to receive a notice about the changes prior to March 2. The secretary of state’s office has also announced plans to send a mail ballot application to all registered voters. Those applications are expected to arrive in mailboxes the week of Jan. 18.

Comments

It is obvious that thousands of people did not check the back of the ballot. A few years ago the name change got voted down by a landslide!
Providence Plantations was the area where Roger Williams first settled, and Rhode Island was the name given to what we now call Aquidneck Island (Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth). Therefore, "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" was the name of our state. I call on our state leaders to put it back on the ballot at the next election. It was recently changed for the wrong reasons (at an emotional time), and it should go back to its original name. Roger Williams must be rolling in his grave.