PROVIDENCE – The Sabina Matos congressional campaign broke its silence Thursday, saying in a statement that the campaign was “deeply disappointed and angry” about reports of alleged fraudulent signatures on nomination papers submitted to local boards of canvassers within the 1st Congressional District. Meanwhile, the R.I. attorney general’s office’s investigation into Matos’ campaign will now go statewide.
Matos, the state’s lieutenant governor and one of 12 Democrat candidates vying for the now open seat in the U.S. House, has been embroiled in controversy all week after local communities reported that several signatures on Matos’ nomination papers had discrepancies, including signatures that were allegedly forged or signed by people who are deceased.
Brexton Isaacs, Matos’ campaign manager, in an emailed statement Thursday said the campaign provided “clear instructions” to circulators on how to correctly gather signatures. One instruction says the person obtaining the signatures “must personally observe every person signing the nomination papers.”
Issacs said anyone who violated the instructions “has no place in our campaign and will be held accountable.” He also noted a majority of the 728 signatures “have been validated” by local boards of canvassers and certified by the R.I. secretary of state’s office. Matos’ campaign is “confident” that the R.I. Board of Elections will uphold the secretary of state’s determination that Matos qualified for the ballot.
“This is, in part, because the complaints do not challenge enough validated signatures to affect our status on the ballot. In Rhode Island, legal precedent makes it clear that signatures authentically submitted and validated will be counted. The vast majority of people who signed their names to place Sabina Matos on the ballot had their voices heard and their signatures validated,” Isaacs said. “We are grateful that the local boards of canvassers have done their jobs.”
Isaacs did not immediately respond Thursday to multiple questions from Providence Business News, including if the Matos campaign had done its own investigation into who within the campaign may have failed to follow proper signature protocols and how did the campaign respond if any campaign staff had submitted fraudulent signatures.
Brian Hodge, spokesperson for R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, confirmed Thursday to PBN that Neronha’s office has taken full control of investigating Matos’ campaign. Hodge told PBN Wednesday that the investigation had just focused on the town of Jamestown, with Neronha’s office aiding Jamestown police.
Now, Hodge said the investigation has become much broader after multiple other local police departments have gotten involved looking into claims of more fraudulent signatures submitted by Matos’ campaign. Hodge told PBN that Newport also formally reported alleged signature discrepancies.
Newport Canvassing Clerk Stephen Waluk told PBN Wednesday that the city’s canvassing board voted Wednesday to forward three signatures to the Newport Police Department because “it looks like these [individuals] may not have signed these papers.” (Editor’s note: Waluk is resigning as the city’s canvassing clerk at the end of this week due to matters unrelated to the Matos dispute.)
WPRI-TV CBS 12 reported late Wednesday that discrepancies were also found in Barrington and East Providence. Hodge would not speculate on how long Neronha’s investigation may take.
Also, the R.I. Board of Elections on Friday at 2 p.m. will hold a special meeting about the controversy. On its agenda, the board may vote to hear objections to nomination papers that have been filed and may meet in executive session “pertaining to investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct, either civil and criminal in nature.”
(UPDATED to note Stephen Waluk’s pending resignation from the city of Newport.)