Nomination signatures challenged as fraud allegations complicate CD1 race

Questions surround part-time field worker’s role in Matos campaign

By: - July 19, 2023 6:00 pm

Voters sign nomination forms for 1st Congressional District candidates at a signing party held July 10 at Gaudet Middle School in Middletown. No one from Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos’ campaign attended the event. (Janine L. Weisman/Rhode Island Current)

Two groups are formally calling for election officials to re-examine more signatures collected by Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos’ campaign in the open 1st Congressional District race. 

The challenges filed with the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s office ahead of the Wednesday afternoon deadline come amid allegations of fraudulent signatures on Matos’ nomination forms in Jamestown and Newport.

Jamestown police are investigating claims that the names of dead people are listed on nomination forms submitted by Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos’ campaign for Rhode Island’s open 1st Congressional District seat. (Janine L. Weisman/Rhode Island Current)

One challenge, from fellow Democrat Don Carlson’s campaign, asks the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s office to investigate signatures on the nomination forms from 15 of the 19 municipalities within the district, including Newport, where the Newport Canvassing Authority has already asked for a police investigation.

Preliminary investigation has uncovered demonstrably fraudulent signatures on Matos’ nomination papers in at least two separate jurisdictions – including instances of signatures of people who have died, people who have moved away, and people who deny ever signing these nomination papers,” Nicholas Marroletti, Carlson’s campaign manager, wrote.

“No satisfactory explanation has been offered by Sabina Matos or her campaign for these stark irregularities.”

The second, from the Rhode Island Working Families Party, which endorsed Democrat Aaron Regunberg in the race, also criticizes Matos for remaining silent amid the allegations while emphasizing the importance of maintaining integrity in the election.

“Many hard-working volunteers across many campaigns had face-to-face conversations with hundreds of voters to gain the signatures needed for candidates in this race,” Georgia Hollister Isman, New England regional director for the Working Families Party, said in her letter. 

“Their hard work and the democratic process itself is cast in doubt if the state does not carefully investigate all the signatures collected by an actor who seems clearly to not have been acting in good faith.”

Hollister Isman’s letter specifically asks for review of all Matos’ signatures collected by Holly McClaren, a part-time field organizer for the campaign. McClaren signed off on two nomination forms in Jamestown and Newport already under scrutiny for allegedly forged signatures. 

Carlson’s campaign claimed McClaren had a hand in nearly half of Matos’ nomination forms across the district, based on its own review of her signatures. In addition to Jamestown and Newport, the Carlson campaign requested reviews in the following municipalities: Barrington, Bristol, Central Falls, Cumberland, East Providence, Lincoln, North Providence, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Providence, Warren, and Woonsocket.

McClaren could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Matos’ campaign did not immediately respond to the challenges. In a prior statement on Wednesday, she said she was “deeply troubled” by the allegations.”

Signature recounts requested

Four other candidates who appear to have failed to meet the 500-signature threshold for a spot on the ballot also filed challenges with the Secretary of State’s office, according to letters obtained by the Rhode Island Current. Three of those candidates, Gregory Mundy, Bella Noka and Larry Hutchinson (all Democrats) asked the state to reconsider the signatures for their own campaigns.

The fourth, from Democrat Mickeda Barnes, calls for a recount of every candidate’s signatures, including her own.

All four candidates’ names were submitted to the ballot placement lottery held Wednesday afternoon. Noka placed ninth, Mundy 12th, Barnes 13th and Hutchinson 14th. If their challenges are denied, or accepted but subsequent recounts confirm they are disqualified, their names will be removed and names will move up.

All six challenges will be reviewed by the Rhode Island Board of Elections at its meeting on Friday, July 21. 

Two other candidates who failed to meet the signature requirements formally withdrew from the race ahead of the 4 p.m. deadline: Democrat Kathleen Gaskell and Republican William Lebron Jr. Democrat Nick Autiello also announced earlier Wednesday he was dropping out of the race, despite gathering enough signatures for a spot on the ballot. 


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Nancy Lavin
Nancy Lavin

Nancy Lavin is senior reporter covering state politics, energy and environmental issues for the Rhode Island Current.