All five Senate 1 candidates remain on ballot despite challenges

Democrat Mario Mancebo ekes by with exactly 100 certified signatures

By: - August 15, 2023 4:51 pm

From left: Emmanuel Hernandez, who works for the Rhode Island Board of Elections,; and Mario Mancebo, a Democratic candidate in the State Senate District 1 special election, speak to the board on Tuesday. (Nancy Lavin/Rhode Island Current)

Questions surrounding campaign signatures now hover over the Rhode Island Senate 1 District race, with state election workers on Tuesday identifying instances of inconsistencies and errors in local election workers’ prior review process.

Which is how at least one candidate in the upcoming special election, Democrat Mario Mancebo, was able to keep his spot on the primary ballot despite having an additional signature rejected by the Rhode Island Board of Elections. The upcoming special election features four Democrats and one Republican vying to fill the seat left open by the late Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, who died in April.

Mancebo and Nathan Biah, a Democratic state representative from Providence, both faced challenges to their nomination papers by another Democrat in the race, Michelle Rivera. Rivera laid out a host of examples of handwriting mismatches, as well as technical problems like incorrect or incomplete addresses, for the elections board Tuesday.

Ultimately, the board agreed to strike one signature each from Biah and Mancebo’s papers. For Biah, the final count of 102 signatures, one below the prior total of 103, left him just above the 100-signature threshold to remain on the primary ballot.

Rep. Nathan Biah, a Providence Democrat and candidate for Rhode Island Senate District 1, speaks to the Rhode Island Board of Elections on Tuesday. (Nancy Lavin/Rhode Island Current)

But for Mancebo, who only had 100 signatures certified prior to Tuesday, losing one more would have taken him off the ballot. However, state election staff also found one signature which had been thrown out by local election authorities which did not appear invalid that the election board opted to add back in, putting Mancebo at the 100-signature threshold.

Good news for Mancebo. But not necessarily a vote of confidence in the signature review process, as several board members noted. The state review process does not typically include line-by-line signature matching except for specific signatures being challenged. 

It was only to stave off potential questions that Emmanuel Hernandez, the state election worker who reviewed the signatures, went through all of Mancebo’s original papers.

Hernandez detailed several “inconsistencies” with the local review process, both on Mancebo’s and Biah’s papers.

Both Mancebo and Rivera also said that in their own review of signatures, they found the board to be inconsistent – throwing out a signature when keeping another, when both had the same problem.

Michael Narducci, the Providence elections administrator, could not be reached for comment about these allegations on Tuesday.

Others said, the findings underscored the need to improve the signature training process for collectors and reviewers.

“We know this process is imperfect,” board member Randy Jackvony said.

Other candidates in the race include Democrat Jake Bissaillon and Republican Niyoka Powell. The primary is scheduled for Sept. 5 with a Nov. 7 general election.


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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.