R.I. elections officials probe another signature scandal 

A POLITICAL organizing firm hired by Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has fired a staffer for intentionally forging signatures of dead people on Ramaswamy’s nomination papers in Rhode Island, Tricia McLaughlin, Ramaswamy’s campaign spokesperson, confirmed Thursday. / ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO / ABBIE PARR

A political organizing firm hired by Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has fired a staffer for intentionally forging signatures of dead people on Ramaswamy’s nomination papers in Rhode Island, Tricia McLaughlin, Ramaswamy’s campaign spokesperson, confirmed Thursday. 

The news comes on the final day for presidential candidates to turn in signature forms to local boards of canvassers, with at least 1,000 names needed to secure a spot in Rhode Island’s April 2 primary ballot. Ramaswamy appears to have cleared the hurdle, according to preliminary counts reported by the R.I. Secretary of State, but his campaign is under the microscope for suspected signature fraud. 

In Coventry, the Board of Canvassers reported “an unusually high number of signatures” in Ramaswamy’s nomination papers had been tossed out, while Warwick’s canvassing board found several dead residents’ names on Ramaswamy’s signature lists, Miguel Nunez, the deputy state elections director, wrote in an email to local boards of canvassers on Wednesday. A copy of the email was obtained by Rhode Island Current. 

Nunez declined to share further details, referring to local canvassing boards for the nomination papers in question. 

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The Hopkinton and Providence boards of canvassers subsequently reported a high number of invalid signatures on Ramaswamy’s papers to the Rhode Island Board of Elections on Thursday, according to Ben Smith, a board spokesman. The Providence board also found at least six names of dead people, Josh Estrella, a spokesman for Providence Mayor Brett Smiley, said in an email.  

Ramaswamy is not the first candidate whose campaign has been tied to forgery accusations. Last summer, allegedly fake signatures, including those of dead residents, were uncovered on the signature lists submitted by Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos in her congressional campaign. A criminal investigation of Matos’ papers remains ongoing by the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General. 

Now, it’s Republican presidential hopeful and tech entrepreneur Ramaswamy – whose campaign slogan is “Truth” – under scrutiny for suspected forgery. Like Matos, Ramaswamy’s campaign denied any knowledge of or participation in alleged signature fraud. 

“We’ve never had an issue with them before,” McLaughlin said in an interview Thursday, referring to the petition vendor hired to help collect signatures in Rhode Island, along with Virginia, Mississippi, Indiana and Alabama. “We were surprised.” 

The vendor,  a Missouri-based company called GroundGame Political Solutions LLC, launched an internal investigation of its staffers, which found one person who was intentionally writing down dead people’s names on signature forms. That person, who was not identified, was fired Thursday, and the company has notified Warwick Police, McLaughlin said.  

Rhode Island Current contacted a half dozen local canvassing boards across the state, including in Coventry and Warwick, to learn more. Coventry Board of Canvassers Clerk Lori Anderson declined to answer questions or share copies of Ramaswamy’s nomination papers, referring back to the Rhode Island Board of Elections for more information.  

Krista Tracy, Warwick’s election director, also declined to comment since she has not been in the office during the signature review process, but shared copies of Ramaswamy’s nomination forms with Rhode Island Current. 

A review of the Warwick signatures shows that less than half – 144 of 334 – were accepted by the Warwick Board of Canvassers. Five different signature collectors gathered names on Ramaswamy’s behalf in Warwick, all of whom listed out-of-state addresses. Two of the five signature collectors were also identified by the Coventry canvassing board for high numbers of invalid signatures, according to Nunez’ email to local election authorities. 

It’s not uncommon for some signatures to be rejected, either because the signee is not actually registered, or is registered in a different district, said Giana Savastano, manager for the Woonsocket’s board of canvassers. Signatures can also be rejected if the handwriting cannot be matched against local records, which might be a sign of fraud, but just as likely is because someone is rushing through their John Hancock outside a supermarket, Savastano said.  

Woonsocket’s Board of Canvassers accepted 38 of the 60 signatures submitted by Ramaswamy’s campaign, which seemed normal to Savastano. Other municipal election workers who spoke to Rhode Island Current also did not spot anything out of the ordinary, even after taking a second look upon receiving Nunez’ email warning. 

That includes Keith Ford, the Jamestown canvassing clerk who was the first to sound the alarm on suspicious signatures on Matos’ congressional campaign last year. After noticing potentially fraudulent signatures on Matos’ papers in July, Ford contacted Jamestown Police, setting off a wave of investigations by local and state criminal and elections authorities, some of which remain ongoing. 

Ford did not find anything suspicious in reviewing signatures turned in by presidential contenders, he said Thursday. Ramaswamy’s campaign submitted two signatures to Jamestown, both of which were rejected — one lived in the wrong district and one was not registered to vote.  

In East Providence, 11 of Ramaswamy’s 22 signatures were accepted, which was a similar acceptance rate to other candidates, said John Braga, a clerk for the city canvassing department. Meanwhile, Pawtucket Registrar Ken McGill reported 79 of 131 signatures accepted from Ramaswamy’s campaign. 

Joe Powers, chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party, declined to comment, noting that the state GOP was not involved in collecting signatures for Ramaswamy’s campaign.  

Presidential candidates have until 4 p.m. Thursday to turn in signatures to local boards of canvassers. 

Nancy Lavin is a staff writer for the Rhode Island Current

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