NEWS

DECISION DAY

Record number of Rhode Islanders vote as Cranston’s mayoral, City Council, Assembly races reach finish line

By DANIEL KITTREDGE
Posted 11/4/20

Like everything else in 2020, however, this year has proven a bit different.

In Cranston, more than half of the ballots were cast before regular polling places had even opened Tuesday morning. And …

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NEWS

DECISION DAY

Record number of Rhode Islanders vote as Cranston’s mayoral, City Council, Assembly races reach finish line

Posted

Like everything else in 2020, however, this year has proven a bit different.

In Cranston, more than half of the ballots were cast before regular polling places had even opened Tuesday morning. And while candidates for mayor, City Council and seats in the General Assembly made the rounds at polling places throughout the day in a final push for victory, the election night gatherings that typically culminate campaigns were largely canceled or scaled back as the coronavirus continues its new surge in Rhode Island.

The disruptions to some of the traditional Election Day staples aside, the process of voting itself went well in Cranston – and drew participation from tens of thousands of residents. “Smooth from start to finish,” Nick Lima, the city’s registrar and elections director, said of how Election Day unfolded as the polls closed at 8 p.m.

Complete results were not expected until well after the Herald’s deadline Tuesday night.

According to the reporting schedule outlined by the Board of Elections ahead of Nov. 3, the first tallies – those from in-person Election Day ballots – were scheduled to be released starting after the close of polls at 8 p.m.

Early in-person counts were set to follow at 10 p.m. Then, at 11 p.m., the release of mail ballot counts was scheduled to begin.

Mail ballots dropped at drop boxes on Election Day, however, were not part of that initial report. Those ballots, along with other uncounted mail votes, were to be counted and reported on Wednesday and Thursday.

Turnout sets record in RI

At the time of 7:50 p.m. on Tuesday, just before the Herald’s deadline and the close of polls, 39,028 Cranston voters had taken part in the election. That figure includes 17,376 who voted in-person at regular polling places on Nov. 3.

Another 9,354 Cranstonians voted early and in person at City Hall between Oct. 14 and Nov. 2 as part of an expanded emergency voting option this year. Early in-person voting numbers increased each day during the past week in Cranston, ending with a high of 928 on Monday. At some points on the final day of early voting the line stretched around and even past City Hall.

At press time, 12,298 mail ballots had been received from Cranston voters. A totalof 13,061 mail ballots were  sent to voters in the city, according to the office of Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, and the press time tally represents a collection rate of roughly 94 percent.

The press time turnout for Cranston stood at 65 percent of the city’s 59,760 registered voters. That exceeded the 63.9 percent turnout in the 2016 general election, which also had contests for president and mayor on the ballot. By comparison, Cranston’s turnout was 54.9 percent for the 2018 election, when Rhode Islanders voted for governor.

“I think we could hit 70 [percent turnout] by the time it’s all said and done,” Lima said, noting that some voting precincts – including Western Hills Middle School and the Pastore Youth Center – had artificially low Election Day vote tallies in the Secretary of State’s count due to syncing issues with the online reporting tool.

According to Gorbea’s office, of Cranston’s registered voters, 56,657 are considered active. Registrations are flagged as “inactive” when election mail is returned as undeliverable but can be reactivated.

Republicans currently control both the mayor’s office and City Council in Cranston, although the party lags in terms of voter registration numbers. Of the overall number of registered voters in Cranston, 24,311 are Democrats, 11,030 are Republicans and 24,419 are unaffiliated. Of the active registered voters, 23,268 are Democrats, 10,658 are Republicans and 22,731 are unaffiliated.

Similar turnout trends  were seen across the Ocean State as Election Day arrived.

For Rhode Island as a whole, the press time numbers showed 487,514 ballots having been cast, including 173,459 Election Day votes, 149,546 early in-person votes and 164,509 mail ballots received. That total exceeds the previous record number of voters, when roughly 475,000 cast ballots in 2008.

That represents a turnout rate of 60.2 percent. The mail ballot figure represents a collection rate of nearly 94 percent based on the 175,701 mail ballots that were sent to Rhode Island voters.

Historically, Rhode Island’s highest general election turnout since 1970 was seen in 1984, when 78 percent of voters cast ballots. The state last topped 70 percent turnout in 1992, when 76.2 percent of voters took part in the election. The state last exceeded 60 percent turnout in 2012, when 62 percent of voters participated in the election.

Scenes from
Election Day in Cranston

In perhaps the most closely watched and consequential race in the state this year, Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Republican challenger Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung both spoke with the media after voting at Hope Highlands Middle School on Tuesday morning.

Mattiello, who has represented House District 15 since 2007, told reports he trusts the “collective wisdom” of the conservativeleaning district’s voters.

Asked how he felt this year compared with 2016, when he was nearly defeated by Republican Steve Frias, Mattiello said: “I felt much more comfortable and confident this morning, to be very frank with you. [The 2016 campaign] was a non establishment year, it was a truck toll year, and people just were a little uneasy. This year is very different. I think people want stability. I think people are very appreciative of the work we’ve been doing, particularly the car tax phase-out, and they’d like to see us continue the same pro-business, projobs, pro-economy agenda that we’ve been working on.” Mattiello reprised his warning that a Fenton-Fung win would create an “unpredictable” situation at the General Assembly.

“The speakership would go into turmoil, and you don’t know who comes out the other end,” he said. “And that would make a tremendous difference in the direction of the state.”

The speaker declined to respond to Fenton-Fung’s criticism of the controversies that have surrounded his tenure – “I don’t have a response to that, it’s just more of the same” – and said he planned to enjoy a quiet night with family after more campaigning and an Election Day tradition. “Right now, I’m going to Wein-O-Rama,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy three pancakes, because that’s what I do every Election Day.”

In a sign of how different election night was compared with previous years, Mattiello’s campaign planned a Zoom call with members of the media late Tuesday night, after the scheduled release of the first mail ballot tallies.

Fenton-Fung, Cranston’s first lady and a first-time candidate for public office, said campaigning with her husband, Mayor Allan Fung, has been a different experience this year. Fung is leaving office after 12 years due to term limits.

“It’s really weird voting for yourself for the first time. We’re excited,” she said, adding: “It’s kind of bittersweet, a little bit. But it’s fun. We worked really hard together … It’s been really fun to do this together.”

Fenton-Fung said she felt “really cautiously optimistic” about her chances of unseating Mattiello, contending her message has had the most resonance from voters. She also said she believes District 15 voters are increasingly “rejecting” the speaker in response to testimony during the recently trial of Jeff Britt, one of his former campaign aides.

“When we were at the doors, we’re talking about the next five years. My opponent was speaking about the last five,” she said. “And I think people realize it’s time for a change.”

In a hint that she might already be planning a rematch in 2022 if she falls short in her challenge, Fenton-Fung said: “I knocked on every single door, even if you had a Mattiello sign on it. Because it doesn’t matter, I still want to form a relationship with everybody in the community, because if I didn’t get them this time, perhaps, you know, I could change them on the reelect in two years.”

Fenton-Fung was scheduled to gather with other Republican candidates at the St. Mary’s Feast Society building after the polls closed Tuesday.

On a cold night, the event was to be held outdoors in keeping with COVID-19 safety protocols.

In the other most closely watched local contest, to succeed Fung as mayor, Democratic candidate Maria Bucci and Republican Citywide
Councilman Ken Hopkins spent the day visiting polling places after voting at Hope Highlands and Garden City Elementary School, respectively.

Bucci, like Mattiello, had no election night gathering planned. She pointed to Gov. Gina Raimondo’s recent announcement of new restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

“I’m just going to be getting the numbers with my family tonight,” she said. “Because of the governor’s restrictions, I’m just worried about the health and safety of my volunteers and everybody that’s helped. So I think that’s the right decision to make.”

Bucci said she felt “really good” and “really confident” about her chances, but that she planned to spend Tuesday afternoon and evening sprinting to the finish line.

“It’s busy. I’m going to try and hit as many polling places as possible and still meet as many voters as possible,” she said. “I’ve tried to knock on every door, but it wasn’t that easy, so I’ll just get out there and continue to meet the voters.”

Hopkins, who received Fung’s endorsement during the GOP primary contest, said he is “ready to be mayor.”

“Let’s see what happens. It’s up to the voters now. I’ve worked my tail off, harder than anything I’ve ever worked for,” he said.

Hopkins said the campaign has been a “good race,” and that he sees its largely positive tone as having set an example.

“It’s been a good race. I’ve got a lot of respect for Maria for running,” he said. “We like each other, and I think we’ve set an example for how to be civil and still compete.”

Regarding Fung, Hopkins said: “I love Allan, he’s done a great job. He’s set a great foundation for me to take over, and now I’m ready for it.”

Other hopefuls were campaign at polling places across the city as well.

A candidate in another closely watched General Assembly race, House District 16 Democratic hopeful Brandon Potter, was at Garden City Elementary as Hopkins left to join Fenton- Fung at Hope Highlands.

Potter, who defeated incumbent Rep. Christopher Millea in the September primary, faces Republican Maryann Lancia for the District 16 seat.

Part of the progressive Rhode Island Political Cooperative, Potter said he believes his victory would “send quite a message.”

“It shows that people really aren’t so beholden to the hyper-partisan rhetoric,” he said. “They’re really concerned about candidates that are talking about the quality-of-life issues, the things that actually connect to their everyday lives, and how our government can do a whol lot more to work on those issues for their benefit.”

He added: “I feel good. I know that we’ve put a lot of hard work in. I think that we had the right message, and I think what we’ve seen across the state is that people want change. So I feel in a good position and relieved to have this election cycle almost be over, but I’m also not losing focus to the important work that has to be done going into the coming session, and hopefully I’m fortunate enough to be there and be a part of that.”

While many candidates shied away from organized events in light of the pandemic, some planned to gather with and address supporters.

Pat Cortellessa, the Republican candidate in Senate District 27, said in a statement that he planned to follow the results with supporters at Rhode Island GOP headquarters in Warwick.

“We look forward to joining fellow Republicans in celebration as Election Day draws to a close,” Cortellessa said. “We are hopeful and optimistic that voters will make their voices heard loud and clear – and what better way to celebrate than among fellow Republicans.

Final fundraising figures ahead of Election Day

The final campaign finance reports submitted by local candidates ahead of Election Day provide a glimpse into the cost of the city’s highestprofile contests.

Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 26, Democratic mayoral candidate Maria Bucci spent $259,363.80 on her campaign. That is based on the latest figures incorporating the finance report due Oct. 26, or seven days before the election.

She raised $162,585 through individual contributions during the same time period – with much of the money coming from an extensive list of donors, 87 in all, who gave the $1,000 maximum.

She has loaned her campaign $43,000 this year – adding to a $30,000 from December 2019 – and received another $7,000 from political action committees, or PACs,
including $1,000 each from the Rhode Island Laborers’ PAC, Rhode Island PublicmEmployees’ Education PAC,
Rhode Island Laborers’ Political League, Rhode Island Laborers’ Public Employees PAC and Teamster Local 251 PAC.

In terms of expenses, the bulk of Bucci’s spending went to three sources – more than $70,000 to Providencebased Statecraft Strategies for consulting and professional services and advertising,
more than $54,000 to Minnesota-based The Pivot Group LLC for fundraising expenses and consulting services, and more than $50,000 to Chicago-based A & L Media for advertising.

For the period covered by the most recent report, which covers Oct. 6 to Oct. 26, Bucci reported raising $28,530 through individual donations
and $2,000 from PACs. She also lent $20,000 to her campaign. She spent $37,578.09 during the same time period and ended with a balance of $16,196.20 on hand.

Citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins, the Republican candidate for mayor, spent a total of $142,750.35 on his campaign between Jan. 1 and Oct. 26, according to his latest finance report.

Hopkins raised $147,175.50 through individual contributions during the same time period, including 40 who gave the $1,000 maximum. He also reports $2,711.54 through in-kind individual contributions.

Hopkins has loaned his campaign $26,500 and received $4,650 from PACs, including contributions of $1,000 each from Cranston Firefighters Local 1363, Cranston Firefighters for Public Safety, IBPO Local 301 and the Cranston Teachers’ Alliance.

Since Jan. 1, Hopkins has spent $142,750.35 on the campaign. The largest expense by far is approximately $83,659 to Providencebased Regine Printing for advertising. Another $18,825 went to Cumberland-based Fleming & Associations for consulting services.

For the Oct. 6 to Oct. 26 period covered by the most recent finance report, Hopkins raised $57,065.50 through individual contributions and
another $1,150 from PACs. His campaign spent $54,410.27 and ended with a balance of $44,082.17 on hand.

In the House District 15 contest, the Democratic candidate has also led in the money race.

Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has raised more than $232,000 since Jan. 1, according to his finance report filed seven days before the election. That figure includes $189,262 through individual contributions and $43,600 from PACs.

The list of PACs that contributed to the speaker’s campaign is extensive. Those that gave $1,000 include Building Industry PAC, Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care PAC, RI Automobile Dealers PAC, RI Staffing Association PAC, Providence Chamber PAC, International Association of Firefighters Interested in Registration and Education PAC, Amalgamated Transit Union COPE-Rhode Island, Cranston Firefighters Local 1363 COPE, the East Greenwich fire union’s PAC, RI Brotherhood of Correctional Officers PAC, Rhode Island Second Amendment PAC, Pawtucket  Firefighters Local 1261 PAC, People RI Council 94 AFSCME AFL-CIO PAC, Independent Insurance Agents RI PAC, RI State Association of Firefighters and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 57.

Mattiello’s campaign has spent more than $253,000 since Jan. 1, with top expenses including $26,000 to Winning Ways, $26,962 to the Crowne Plaza Hotel for fundraising expenses, and nearly $80,000 to Checkmate Consulting Group.

For the period from Oct. 6 to Oct. 26, Mattiello raised $4,601 from individuals and $3,100 from PACs, a total of $7,701, and spent $1,853.53. His ending balance was $95,831.16

Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, Mattiello’s Republican challenger, raised nearly $63,000 through individual contributions between Jan. 1 and Oct. 26. She loaned her campaign $10,051 and received another $4,750 from PACs, including the Connecticut Laborers’ Political League, Iron Workers Local 37, Plumber & Pipefitters Local 51 PAC, the Massachusetts and Northern New England Laborers’ District Council RI PAC, the Rhode Island Republican Conservative Caucus, the Rhode Island Public Employees’ Education PAC and the Rhode Island Laborers’ Political League.

Fenton-Fung’s campaign spent $61,075.58 between Jan. 1 and Oct. 26, with the largest expense – a total of just more than $42,000 – for New Hampshire-based Spectrum Marketing Companies. For the report reflecting the period from Oct. 6 to Oct. 26, Fenton-Fung raised $15,175 and spent $29,097.81. Her campaign’s fund balance stood at $14,007.60 as of Oct. 26.

Jacob Marrocco contributed to this report.

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