R.I. attorney general’s office assisting Jamestown police in Matos signature investigation

Updated at 4:45 p.m. on July 19, 2023

PROVIDENCE – The R.I. attorney general’s office confirmed Wednesday to Providence Business News that it is working alongside the Jamestown Police Department in its investigation into claims of fraudulent signatures on nomination papers submitted by the Sabina Matos congressional campaign to the town’s board of canvassers.

Brian Hodge, spokesperson for Peter F. Neronha, said Wednesday via email that the Jamestown police reached out to Neronha’s office and “we are working with them on this matter.” Hodge did not comment on follow-up questions if the investigation is solely focused on Jamestown or that Neronha’s office will also focus on other communities within the 1st Congressional District if any discrepancies are found in Jamestown.

Law enforcement in neighboring Newport will also investigate Matos’ campaign. Newport Canvassing Clerk Stephen Waluk told PBN 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.”

Waluk said the paper with the questionable signatures was submitted by Holly McClaren, reportedly a Matos campaign supporter. Waluk also told PBN the Newport canvassing board rejected 14 of the 32 total submitted signatures for various reasons, 11 of which were denied for various reasons, such as voters not being found or that the signatures did not match the names.

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Waluk said the canvassing board rejecting 14 signatures on a nomination form is “pretty high,” saying that typically “8 of 10 or 9 of 10” signatures are verified. “This is a significant number of signatures that are not verified,” Waluk said.

Waluk declined comment when asked if the canvassing board will ask Neronha’s office for assistance in the investigation.

Late Wednesday afternoon, fellow Democratic candidate Don Carlson said in a statement he has submitted a formal challenge to the R.I. secretary of state’s office. He is requesting the boards of canvassers in Barrington, Bristol, Central Falls, Cumberland, East Providence, Jamestown, Lincoln, Newport, North Providence, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Providence, Warren and Woonsocket to review all nomination papers submitted by Matos’ campaign.

Carlson in his statement claimed his campaign reviewed all petition forms submitted by Matos’ campaign. Carlson alleges that McClaren “had signed nearly half of all Matos’ submitted nomination papers district-wide.”

“Under these extraordinary circumstances, the Carlson campaign believes that protecting the integrity of the state’s elections process requires each local board of canvassers in the [1st] Congressional District to complete a thorough review and verification of signatures collected by McClaren and submitted by the Matos campaign,” Carlson said.

Matos, the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor and the perceived frontrunner to succeed David N. Cicilline in the U.S. House, has been under fire all week after published media reports outline that some signatures found on nomination papers for Matos’ campaign either were forged or of deceased residents. Some residents in Newport claimed that their signatures on the nomination papers were forged, according to a report Tuesday by WPRI-TV CBS 12.

It is unclear if the Matos campaign is cooperating with both Jamestown police and Neronha’s office in the investigation and if the campaign is conducting its own investigation into the matter. Matos’ campaign team did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment from PBN.

Matos is one of now 14 candidates – 12 of them Democrats – running for Congress in the special election. Gabe Amo and Sen. Sandra Cano, D-Pawtucket, are also among candidates who have been critical of Matos’ campaign and called on the state to investigate the signature matter.

(UPDATED to include comments from Don Carlson and his submitting a formal challenge to the R.I. secretary of state’s office.)

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.