Berbrick takes top slot on CD1 Democratic primary ballot

By: - July 19, 2023 9:13 pm

No candidates for Rhode Island’s open 1st Congressional District seat were present for the ballot placement lottery Wednesday, July 19, at the Rhode Island Board of Elections in Providence But there were plenty of journalists. (Michael Salerno/Rhode Island Current)

PROVIDENCE — The lottery for position on the Sept. 5 1st Congressional District Democratic special primary ballot drew more reporters than candidates or campaign staff to the Rhode Island Department of State’s Election Division offices Wednesday.

1st Congressional District candidate Walter Berbrick of Middletown will appear first on the ballot in the Sept. 5 Democratic primary. (Janine L. Weisman/Rhode Island Current)

About a dozen people, mostly reporters, watched as a machine inherited by the Department of State from the Rhode Island Lottery announced that Middletown Democrat and U.S. Navy veteran Walter Berbrick will be in the coveted first position out of 15 other candidates on the ballot. That total number may change though now that four candidates are seeking recounts of their nomination forms.

“It’s always great being first,” said Kate Cantwell, manager of the Berbrick campaign. “But Rhode Islanders are paying attention to this race, and we know there’s a lot more work to do.”

The order on the Democratic primary ballot will be as follows:

  1. Walter Berbrick
  2. Allen R. Waters
  3. Donald R. Carlson
  4. Spencer Dickinson
  5. J. Aaron Regunberg
  6. Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos
  7. Stephen M. Casey
  8. Gabriel Amo
  9. Bella Noka
  10. John Gonçalves
  11. Stephanie Beaute
  12. Gregory L. Munde
  13. Sen. Sandra Cano
  14. Mickeda Sebastiana Barnes
  15. Larry Hutchinson, Jr.
  16. Sen. Ana Quezada

Mickeda Sebastiana Barnes, Larry Hutchinson, Gregory L. Mundy, and Bella Noka requested recounts Wednesday because the candidate nomination forms they submitted failed to meet the necessary 500 certified signatures threshold. The Board of Elections must accept their challenges before conducting a recount. If that happens and the recount shows they still don’t have enough signatures, their names would be removed from the ballot and candidates listed after them will be moved up a slot.

No Republican lottery was held because Gerry W. Leonard Jr., a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer from Jamestown, automatically gets placed on top of the ballot courtesy of an endorsement by the Rhode Island Republican Party on July 6. Leonard will face former Middletown Town Councilwoman Terri Flynn on Sept. 5. 

Nomination signatures challenged as fraud allegations complicate CD1 race

The lottery also decided the order for the two candidates who win their respective primaries and go on to the Nov. 7 special election: the Democrat will be first and Republican second.

Other than Cantwell’s presence, the only campaign to send representatives to the lottery was that of Sen. Sandra Cano, who placed 13 on the list. Cano told Rhode Island Current via text message afterward she was happy just to be in the running.

“It’s great to see democracy in action,” Cano said. “I’m grateful to be on the ballot and look forward to the rest of the campaign!”

Providence City Councilman John Gonçalves expressed disappointment over being 10th on the ballot but said he was still optimistic on his chances.

“Unfortunately, it’s the luck of the draw with the lottery but we won’t allow the ballot placement to determine our destiny in this election,” Gonçalves said. 

“Rhode Islanders are hungry for a champion, teacher, and fierce advocate in Congress and ‘John Gonçalves’ will be the bubble that most voters hopefully fill in come election day.”

Aaron Regunberg, a former state representative and candidate for lieutenant governor, focused on the work still to do in his comments.

“I’m excited to be on the ballot and look forward to continuing to talk to voters about our plan to make government work for everyone,” he said, “not just the wealthy and well-connected few.”

Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, whose campaign is currently under investigation by police and in Newport and Jamestown over allegations of fraudulent signatures on her nomination forms, did not respond to requests for comment.

Deputy Secretary of State and Director of Administration Rob Rock, left, and Director of Elections Kathy Placencia take balls out of a case to load a machine borrowed from the Rhode Island Lottery for the 1st Congressional District special election held Wednesday at the Board of Elections in Providence. (Michael Salerno/Rhode Island Current)

Why it matters

The candidate who lands at the top of a ballot is perceived to have an advantage, though its effects in the 1st Congressional District race may be  minimal.

“Ballot order matters more in down ballot races where there’s not a lot of coverage, and primary races where voters can’t rely on the party name,” said Adam Myers, an associate professor of political science at Providence College. “My guess is that it won’t affect it very much because even though it’s a primary, this is a very high profile race.

“It’s possible that the person at the top of the ballot may get a 1% bump from being at the top of the ballot,” Myers said. “If the election is really close, that additional 1% or 2% could make the difference. It’s probably going to be a small advantage. But it’s still an advantage.” 

The challenges of the candidates seeking recounts of their nomination forms will be reviewed by the Rhode Island Board of Elections at its meeting on Friday, July 21.

The deadline for registration to vote in the primary or to disaffiliate is Aug. 6.


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Kevin G. Andrade
Kevin G. Andrade

Kevin G. Andrade previously covered education, housing and human services for Rhode Island Current.