PROVIDENCE – The R.I. Board of Elections voted on Wednesday to create a new set of protocols to ensure accurate voting following a series of errors that showed up on several machines during early voting last week.
The board voted to establish written protocols for ballot verification ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, after ExpressVote machines in four cities across the state mistakenly displayed names from the 2018 races to people voting in Spanish.
Joe Vitale, senior account manager for Election Systems & Software LLC, the machines’ private vendor, testified at the meeting that his office takes full responsibility for the errors.
“ES&S takes full responsibility for this error and apologizes to the Secretary of State’s Office, the Board of Elections, affected candidates and voters in the state of Rhode Island,” Vitale said. “Going forward, we will put procedures in place to ensure that this will never happen again.”
The first mistake was brought to the board’s attention on Aug. 30, almost a week after early voting started on Aug. 24. On an ExpressVote machine in Providence, Mayor Jorge O. Elorza’s name appeared on the ballot for the Providence mayoral election, despite not being a candidate in 2022.
Further review showed the error appeared in three other races.
All four communities that received Spanish ballots – Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket – were affected and the machines were fixed by the end of the day on Aug. 31.
The ExpressVote machines that displayed the errors are “brand-new,” said Robert Rapoza, executive director of the Board of Elections.
Vitale explained that the vendor used a template based on the 2018 election when preparing the device. And while the information was entered correctly in English, they “failed to update some of the Spanish names for the selection where voters would vote in Spanish.”
A week later, on Sept. 6, the name of one of the mayoral candidates on the ExpressVote Spanish ballot was misspelled, a mistake that was corrected. More issues were reported, including some races showing up in English rather than in Spanish.
Since early voting started, 55 votes were cast into the ExpressVote machines in the four communities, Rapoza said, but it is not confirmed whether those votes were cast in Spanish or English. The 55 votes include 26 votes cast in Providence, 26 in Pawtucket, two in Central Falls and one in Woonsocket. The votes were all counted.
At the Sept. 7 meeting, the Board of Elections discussed implementing new protocols to ensure the names displayed on the machines are correct. This includes involving both the Secretary of State’s Office and the Board of Elections in the verification process and providing printed ballots in Spanish or both in English and Spanish at the general election.
“There are protocols in place put in by the vendors, by our office, by the secretary of state. I think they all need to be documented so the public can see them and give the public some confidence that there is an actual written step-by-step protocol for this,” said board member Louis A. DeSimone Jr.
Claudia Chiappa is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at Chiappa@PBN.com.