It was a pretty small mistake.
“I believe I mis-typed my zip code when I used the online tool,” said Russell Jennings of Pascoag, Rhode Island. As a result, Jennings submitted his Declaration of Candidacy for the wrong House District – District 43 in Johnston rather than District 47 in Burrillville, where he lives. Jennings was at a public library in Maryland and overnight mailed the forms in.
When Patty Pelletier, the Administrative Assistant at Burrillville Town Hall noticed the error, she called Jennings and informed him of the error. Being in Washington DC, Jennings immediately emailed a corrected version to the clerk. The email was received before the close of business on June 27. On June 29 the two members of the Burrillville Board of Canvassers present at a meeting to decide on the validity of Jennings’ declaration voted unanimously to reject it on the grounds that Jennings did not live in the district he declared for. That meeting lasted 30 minutes.
Jennings appealed to the Rhode Island Board of Elections (BOE).
An emergency meeting of the BOE was held Tuesday morning, because every day Jennings waits is less time to collect signatures, should the Board decide in his favor. In the absence of Chair Diane Mederos, Vice-Chair Stephen Erickson led the board.
Jennings represented himself. The Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) sent attorney and former RIDP Chair Bill Lynch to argue against overturning the decision of the Burrillville Board of Canvassers. Lynch’s association with the RIDP is complicated, as Bob Plain at RI Future learned here. He’s either a special advisor, spokesman or an “uncompensated” volunteer, depending on the month. His presence at the hearing, at least to me, demonstrated a keen interest in this matter on the part of the RIDP.
And that makes sense, because the incumbent in District 47 is Democrat Cale Keable, who heads up the House Judiciary Committee and is a high ranking member of Speaker Nicholas Mattiello‘s leadership team.
You can watch the video of the BOE hearing below for the nuances of the arguments and counter-arguments made by Lynch, the BOE and Jennings. Ultimately the the board decided in favor of more democracy and overturned the decision of the Burrillville Board of Canvassers, noting that the legislative trend in election law has leaned towards making it easier to get on the ballot, not harder. The unanimous 4-0 vote pleased Jennings.
“I was really happy with the Board’s decision,” said Jennings, who identifies as a progressive Democrat. “I felt they considered all the other options. I appreciate Mr Lynch bringing up some really good points. I agree with him that the rule of law needs to be clear and understandable for every day people, but I also think there needs to be some flexibility and things like intent and good faith should matter.
“I feel the Board carefully weighed both considerations, and they decided to open up the electoral pool rather than restrict it.”
I asked Lynch what the interest of the RIDP was.
“The process,” responded Lynch. “You know, we monitor these every election cycle to try to make sure that everybody’s in compliance. In this particular case it didn’t appear that this individual was [in compliance] and that was the Party’s position. So they’re going to respect this decision.”
“So there won’t be an appeal?” I asked.
“Well, I’m going to go back and talk to them but that’s not something we should do,” responded Lynch. “It was an interesting issue. It was a unique issue. I’ve not run into it before. I’m not sure it’s something the Party’s going to want to do. I think their attention is going to be on the election.”
Here’s a short interview with Jennings, where he talks about why he is running as a progressive challenger:
Here’s the BOE hearing:
UpriseRI is entirely supported by donations and advertising. Every little bit helps: