What Happened When Rhode Island Rushed to Make It Easier to Vote (and Cheat)

Are corrupt election officials attempting to rig elections in Rhode Island? Or are the secretary of state and the Board of Elections utterly incompetent?

Either way, in its zeal to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to vote, Ocean State election officials—in promoting early voting through use of technology—have made it easily possible to cheat. Or at least easy for human error to affect elections.

With early primary voting underway in Rhode Island, and just days after Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea proudly launched a new, digital ExpressVote voting aid, it was disclosed and confirmed that 55 voters had to be disenfranchised.

When at the polling place, the ExpressVote machine prints out a paper ballot after the voter marks a digital ballot on a display screen. The paper ballot is then fed into a traditional counting machine. The machines are designed to aid those who might otherwise have a problem manually marking a ballot, for whatever reason.

The problem occurred when the machines, in Spanish-language mode, in at least four known cities listed the wrong names. Somehow, candidates from 2018 were erroneously uploaded into the machines by a third-party vendor, rather than this year’s 2022 candidates.

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Want even more incompetence? It was later discovered that the name of the Democratic mayoral candidate in Providence, Gonzalo Cuervo, was misspelled as “Gonzolo” on the screen of the ExpressVote ballot-marking machine when displayed in Spanish.

On the incorrect digital ballot, confused voters ended up voting for people who were not even running. Since the error was discovered, those 55 ballots were un-counted—and thus 55 unknown voters have been disenfranchised.

Nobody seems to know how the wrong candidate names were uploaded. But this digital process, just like an insecure mail-ballot process, highlights the many ways—purposefully or inadvertently—that voters and ballots can easily be invalidated.

Apparently, no one at the Secretary of State’s Office or the Board of Elections bothered to double-check or test whether the digital ballots were accurate, each claiming it was someone else’s fault.

In America, this lack of responsibility, this lack of accountability, and this kind of voter disenfranchisement is absolutely unacceptable.

So many questions should be asked, even though most are likely to go unanswered. For instance, news reports indicate that local polling place volunteers encouraged voters to use the digital ExpressVote system, even if they were perfectly capable of filling out ballots manually on their own. Why?

Did some unscrupulous state official or vendor employee purposefully see to it that the wrong list of candidates was uploaded? If so, how would deceiving Spanish-speaking voters help one candidate over another? Or was it unintentional human error, combined with a negligent lack of oversight? Will it soon be discovered that other machines in other cities have similar or other errors?

Regardless, the push by the left to “expand access” as much as possible has once again led to a serious, and previously avoidable, voting problem. With so many people handling, coding, uploading, or potentially being able to hack into these vulnerable machines, the potential for corruption, criminality, or human error is enormous.

Indeed, in recent years, Americans have learned that an election process where voter identification, ballot integrity, and chain of custody cannot be validated, or where software technology is involved in the marking or counting of ballots, is a process that cannot be trusted to be secure.

It’s not acceptable to identify a flaw in the voting process after the fact—as Rhode Island officials are bragging—in trying to sweep the incident under the rug.

“55 Rhode Island voters will experience real-life voter disenfranchisement due to sloppy work by Rhode Island elections officials. Not one elected official, elections official, or advocate has used the words ‘disenfranchised’ or ‘disenfranchisement’ when discussing this issue,” said Ken Block, two-time gubernatorial candidate in Rhode Island, a state election watchdog, and a former member of the National Task Force on Election Crises.

This ExpressVote machine-error incident will surely lead to even greater public distrust of election integrity.

In Rhode Island in 2020, as in many other states nationally, vote tabulations that clearly appeared to be going one way on election night had swung wildly the other way by morning, after mail-in ballots were counted overnight.

Many questions and concerns were aired by candidates and the public, but state election officials claimed it was the most secure election ever.

We now know better.

One of the first blue states in America to implement a strong voter-ID law, Rhode Island’s more recent track record has served to weaken public confidence in its election integrity.

As we saw in other states when responding to the pandemic during the 2020 election cycle, then-Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, with the support of Gorbea, unilaterally and unconstitutionally altered the state’s voting process, via executive order, by funding and promoting mass mail-ballot voting, indiscriminately sending mail-ballot applications to every registered voter in the state, and further compounding the potential for fraud by also eliminating related and long-standing voter-validation provisions.  

Not only were these major election changes done without the state legislature’s approval, but the General Assembly specifically failed to pass identical legislation in its earlier spring legislative session.

A related lawsuit was dismissed on frivolous grounds, because, according to the judge, the General Assembly, as the government entity whose authority was superseded by the executive order, would not agree to serve as co-plaintiff.

Then, during this year’s session, the state legislature got back in line with the hard-left by passing controversial “Let R.I. Vote” legislation, which codified much of the temporary 2020 election changes—expanding early voting, allowing mail-in ballots without proper ID procedures, and mandating dropboxes in every city and town, all while doing nothing to address the free-for-all ballot-harvesting problem that is still not illegal in our state.

And it could get even worse in the Ocean State, as there’s a well-organized effort—backed by Big Labor and traditional left-wing advocacy groups—to next implement online or email voting, as well as same-day registration. Hopefully, this ballot-machine disaster will put the brakes on such error-prone ideas.

Our elections must be as secure as possible from the very start and throughout the entire process. Justice is not served when laws designed to “expand access to vote” end up expanding the number of voters who are disenfranchised.

In making it easier to vote, Rhode Island election officials are clearly making it easier to cheat—or be cheated.

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.


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