East Greenwich’s Charles Callanan, who lost his bid to unseat Senate Dist. 35’s Bridget Valverde Tuesday, is not happy with mail ballots. His reaction reflects what we’ve seen on the national scene with President Donald Trump, whose lead in Pennsylvania on election night disappeared as the days went by and the hundreds of thousands of mail ballots were counted. Trump, as of Sunday, had yet to concede to former Vice President Joe Biden, who was proclaimed the winner in the presidential election Saturday.
“I … formally request a validation/certification/inspection for all mail-in ballots received in the R.I. Senate 35 race,” Callanan wrote in an email to Robert Raposa, executive director of the state Board of Elections.
Mail ballots are certified when they are received. According to Raposa in an exchange with Callanan at the BOE Friday (in a video shared by Callanan on his Facebook page), anyone was welcome to observe the mail ballot certification process starting Oct. 14, as posted on the Secretary of State’s website.
“Nobody showed up,” Raposa told Callanan.
Callanan said he wanted to see the ballots and Raposa told Callanan he would need to submit a notarized complaint and Raposa would then put it before the BOE’s board, which meets next on Thursday.
Rhode Island has had a mail ballot system in place for many years. Because of the pandemic and the desire to allow people to stay safe and vote from home, this year all registered voters were sent mail ballot applications. If you wanted to vote by mail, you could fill out the application, send it back and a mail ballot would be sent to you. And, unlike in years past, mail ballot voters did not need to have their ballot signed by two witnesses.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there was a surge in requests for mail ballots.
In East Greenwich, a whopping 3,300 voters asked for mail ballots (for context, about 7,500 people voted in the 2016 presidential election). By Monday, Nov. 2, 2,920 of those mail ballots had been returned to the BOE, certified and put into a ballot machine just like the ballot machines used at municipal polling places. The BOE video below from Oct. 31 shows how they were processed.
Behind the Scenes at the RI Board of Elections: Counting Your Mail Ballot pic.twitter.com/TZocUbPXGR
— RI Board of Elections (@RI_BOE) November 1, 2020
On the night of the election, the BOE released results in three parts. First came the results from votes cast on Election Day at around 8:45 p.m. Around 2,500 ballots were cast at EG’s six polling sites Nov. 3 and those votes heavily favored both Callanan and fellow Republican Anthony Giarrusso, who was running against incumbent Justine Caldwell for the House District 30 seat. The next bunch of votes to be announced (before 11 p.m.) were from the “emergency” ballots – i.e. early in-person ballots. Those votes too favored Callanan and Giarrusso, not by a lot but by enough combined with the election day tally, to keep the lead.
In a change this year, the BOE decided to release results of the mail ballots on the night of the election because they were so numerous. In previous years, there were relatively few mail ballots and usually they would not have a significant impact on the final results so they were not tallied until a day or two after the election.
The mail ballot tallies were to have been released by 11 p.m., but they did not end up being announced until 1:10 a.m. Wednesday morning and the mail ballot tallies upended both General Assembly contests. Valverde and Caldwell moved strongly into the lead, winning their reelections.
Across the country, including in states like Pennsylvania and small towns like East Greenwich, mail ballots cast in 2020 have favored Democrats. That said, it’s not as if Republican candidates did not get a share of those ballots. In the Senate Dist. 35 race, Callanan got 1,647 mail ballot votes (Valverde got 4,416); in House Dist. 30, Giarrusso got 1,014 mail ballot votes (Caldwell got 2,370).
Callanan shows no sign of accepting his defeat. In fact, he has renamed his Twitter name “RI Political Prisoner 2375.”