November 8, 2012

No, Ralph, No

Patrick Laverty

I will admit that when Ralph Mollis first ran for Secretary of State (SoS), I was no fan of his or his candidacy. It seemed that while there wasn't anything direct to pin on him, there was always a cloud of trouble around him as mayor of North Providence.

However in the six years or so that he's been the Secretary of State, I've always found him and his staff to be available and helpful. Plus, I haven't heard of any controversy swirling around him. As is fitting with his office, he's kept a low profile.

Then yesterday, he told Tara Granahan on WPRO that in light of the election day mixups, it might be time to roll the Board of Elections under the Secretary of State's office.

In a word, NO.

We currently have a blurred line between the two offices. The SoS is responsible for setting up the ballot and upholding the election laws. The Board of Elections (BoE) is responsible for running the elections on election day and tallying the results.

However, the SoS is a publicly elected and partisan office. The Secretary is beholden to the voters. On the other hand, the BoE is a seven-member board, nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate and specifically may not hold any current state-wide public office. (RIGL 17-7-2)

We need to keep partisan politics out of the administration and oversight of elections as much as possible. A board who has to answer to one person who is elected to a partisan seat, is a bad idea.

I also wish the problems that came up Tuesday morning and Tuesday evening never happened. But we do need to find the correct solutions to the problems. If Secretary Mollis needs a pet cause to raise his profile for when his term is up, I'd suggest he start trumpeting his call for eliminating straight ticket voting again. That is one cause that I will get right in line with him and advocate for loudly right there with him. That needs to be done immediately. But allowing the Secretary of State to oversee the election details is not the correct solution at this time.

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The Rhode Island Board of Elections is a very broken institution. Commissioners serve for FAR too long a term (17 years) and in my personal experience with the Board it has been uneven and wobbly in terms of its regulatory and rule making duties.

I think Mollis is correct to focus on the BoE, but I do agree with you that rolling it into the SoS office is not a good move.

Reform the BoE. Make sure the Executive Director gets switched out with some regularity. And shorten the terms of the Commissioners.

Today's BoE is not a shining beacon of efficiency or fairness.

Posted by: Ken Block at November 8, 2012 4:20 PM

"allowing the Secretary of State to oversee the election details is not the correct solution at this time"

or ANYTIME for that matter.

I agree with Ken, in that I'd like to see some positive changes at the BoE, but having them report to an elected office (holder) is a very bad idea indeed.

Posted by: StuckHereinRI at November 8, 2012 4:57 PM

Ralph attended a rally in Pawtucket for that little turd Cicilline shortly prior to the election.The SoS and AG need to keep their distance from these things,particularly close to an election.AG Kilmartin seems to have followed that guideline.Not Ralphy.It looks wrong and it is wrong.

Posted by: joe bernstein at November 9, 2012 7:12 AM

I agree. There are better ways to save and improve things. Here's an example:

Have the state negotiate with some of the harder-up municipalities on a single discounted, private technology provider. This would save on local taxes and eventually lead to more centralized IT for the state and cities.

Posted by: mangeek at November 9, 2012 8:27 AM

Bad idea. We have enough problems with the free-standing Board of Elections without melding it into the S of S Office. For all the reasons others have stated, this is a bad idea and it should be soundly rejected.

Posted by: Harry Staley at November 9, 2012 9:48 AM
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