2016-11-10 / Around Town

Schiff May Challenge Election Outcome

By Tom Walsh

Democratic State Rep. Deborah L. Ruggiero of Jamestown appeared to have squeezed out a fifth-term in the Rhode Island General Assembly on Tuesday, but there remained a chance that her slim lead could be wiped out by hundreds of mail ballots still to be counted.

And, Republican Rebecca Schiff, who apparently lost to Ruggiero on Election Day in House District 74 by a mere 43 votes, pledged to challenge the outcome and alleged there may have been voting irregularities that tainted the results.

The overall results reported by the Board of Elections were 2,865 for the incumbent lawmaker and 2,822 for her Republican foe. However, hundreds of mail ballots remained to be tallied.

“The Schiff campaign is not prepared to concede the District 74 election results until all the votes are counted,” a statement from the Schiff campaign declared. “There are nearly 1,000 absentee ballots that have yet to be counted that could turn the election in my favor.”

“This is a very fluid situation,” declared Aaron Frechette of the Schiff campaign. “We will ask for an expedited recount.” Frechette said that the campaign would have no comment on the matter other than the prepared statement provided to Newport This Week.

The statement asserted that the campaign’s “internal data indicates strong support from District 74 voters who sent in absentee ballots.” The Schiff campaign also asserted that “while it appears that there are safeguards in place, there were instances where voters were issued double ballots in both Middletown High School and Forest Avenue Elementary School precincts in Middletown. There are serious and legitimate concerns about the propriety of this vote.”

Finally, the campaign maintained that the Rhode Island Republican Party is currently undertaking a “serious examination regarding potential voting irregularities in District 74.”

Ruggiero, 58, a House deputy majority leader and a member of the pivotal House Finance Committee that annually shepherds the state budget to passage, said, “I don’t know anything about double ballots.”

“For me personally, I ran a campaign on the issues,” Ruggiero said. “I ran on my policy concerns as a state representative. My focus was on the issues. That’s what the people want. I took the high road.”

Until now, Schiff, 53, who describes herself in campaign material as a local business owner and educator, generated most of the limited political fireworks associated with this race in early October when she criticized the incumbent for missing 10 percent of the votes taken in the House during the 2016 session.

“I’m troubled by the current representative’s record,” Schiff declared during the campaign. She said that Ruggiero has missed 147 roll call votes since 2012.

“Although there can certainly be legitimate reasons for a representative to miss a vote, sometimes it’s easier to ‘take a walk’ instead of taking a tough vote.”

Ruggiero fired back: “She’s not correct. We had already done all the House bills.”

She added that she told House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello that the House should not have been considering any legislation in the early morning hours. Besides defending her voting record, Ruggiero, a Boston College graduate, also said, “I had a 100 percent attendance record this past session.”

Schiff maintained that when Ruggiero did vote, “her record is predictably partisan.” Quoting research provided by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a conservative organization that describes itself as a “free-enterprise public policy think tank,” Schiff argued that Ruggiero “voted with Speaker of the House Nick Mattiello 87.7 percent of the time in 2016. The roll call shows that Deb’s just not the independent voice she claims to be. She’s just more grease for the corrupt machine.” At the outset of the campaign, Schiff said, “My only boss will be the people of District 74.”

“I stood up to the speaker in front of everyone,” Ruggiero said. “She’s entitled to her opinion, but she’s not entitled to change the facts.”

“I’m honored to serve on behalf of my friends and neighbors in Jamestown and Middletown as their strong and articulate voice at the Statehouse,” Ruggiero said during the campaign. She maintained that her work on what she called “the four E’s – environment, economy, education and the elderly – has resonated in all of my legislative priorities, including the Renewable Energy Program, the Rhode Island Safe School Act, and working for additional funding for our seniors.”

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