WARWICK, JULY 6 – The Rhode Island Republican Party said today it has asked legal teams to investigate reports of candidates filing for more than one elective office in several Rhode Island communities or electoral districts. This is what we have found out about this topic!
Multiple candidacies were once legal, but are now prohibited as a result of election law changes in 2005. State GOP officials said that reports from West Warwick and North Smithfield indicated that local Board of Canvassers had accepted multiple declarations of candidacy.
What Will Happen With The State Senate?
In North Smithfield, George Hemond and Melissa Flaherty, both Democrats, filed for seats on both the Town Council and School Committee. In West Warwick, Thomas Iannitti, Jr. and Patricia Serpa, also Democrats, declared candidacies for both School Committee and State Representative in House district 27. Another individual, John C. Clarke, a Republican, declared for the State Senate seat in Senate district 9, and for School Committee.
Patricia Morgan, State GOP Party Chair, said that while the dual declarations were likely accepted as a result of unfamiliarity with the law, the practice is illegal. This is definitely something we must pay attention to in the future, because multiple candidacies are illegal and punishable by law.
“Our initial review of the law (Rhode Island General Law chapter 17-14-2 (b)) suggests that the act of filing multiple declarations bars the candidate from participating in the coming primary or general election.
What Does the Law Has To Say?
“The law seems quite clear. Its’ express intent was to disqualify any candidate who filed more than one declaration of candidacy for electoral office. Whether or not local Board of Canvassers accepted the filings is not the issue. If a candidate attempted to declare multiple candidacies, the law says they have then disqualified themselves for any office,” Morgan said.
Equally troubling, said the GOP, are reports that the Rhode Island Board of Elections, rather than enforcing the law, is permitting candidates to choose which of the offices they will run for.
“There are published reports that a staff member of the Board of Elections has counseled local canvassing boards to allow multiple-declaration candidates to make a choice,” said Morgan.
“This is not only contrary to the law, but contrary to the purposes and operation of the Board of Elections.
“Firstly, the Board should not allow staff members to act in such a way, essentially making policy before the Board has had an opportunity to rule on the matter.
“But even more important, it appears that the Board of Elections employee, Robert Rapoza, has issued an illegal opinion. Rapoza’s interpretation is not only contrary to law, but also appears to thwart the specific intent of the legislation, which was to stop multiple declarations of candidacy,” Morgan said.
Morgan said the irregularities were most likely the result of unfamiliarity with the law, both among candidates as well as local canvassing boards and town clerks. But lack of understanding of the law does not make it any less enforceable.
“The legislature made this decision in 2005, and it is the law of the state. It is not up to the Board of Elections staff to interpret it, but it is up to the Board to enforce it.
“Should our investigations confirm that illegal candidacies have been allowed to stand – by Republicans or Democrats – we will take action to ensure the law is followed in every instance,” she said.