Former Candidate Files Complaint Over RI Voter Registration

Sep 29, 2017

Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block has accused the state Board of Elections of violating federal election law by failing to collect personal data about some newly registered voters. He made his concerns known in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice and shared the allegations with several media outlets, including RIPR.

According to a federal law adopted in 2002, states must require drivers’ license numbers or the last four digits of a social security number when registering new voters. Block alleges that Rhode Island hasn’t always collected that information since a rule change in 2008.

Block says he investigated Rhode Island’s practices on his own and as part of his work with an organization called the Government Accountability Institute, a conservative group that has been linked to former Trump advisor Steve Bannon. GAI has issued several reports on issues including voting and elections, but has faced criticism from some public officials and scholars who study voting. 

The group presented findings to President Trump’s commission looking into voter fraud in September.

Block maintains he is not suggesting that missing personal information has led to voter fraud in Rhode Island, but he is concerned about the integrity of the voting system.

“Right now, the only thing I can call is that we have 22,000-plus voters who voted in 2016 without required identification data that federal law mandates,” Block said. “That’s the only thing I know for sure right now.”

RI Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said her office is looking into the issue, and was only informed of the U.S. Justice Department complaint after it was reported by local media, according to an emailed statement. Block said he did not reach out to other state lawmakers regarding his concerns.

In her statement, Secretary Gorbea said Rhode Island voters can trust the integrity of their elections.

In September, Gorbea’s office repudiated implications made by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Elections Integrity Resources that thousands of Rhode Island voters were unverified or illegitimate. That assertion stemmed from similar concerns about personal information missing from some voters on the rolls. Those voters, Gorbea said, likely registered to vote before 2002, when the federal government began requiring the collection of additional data. Most were middle-aged, and lived in suburban parts of the state, according to Gorbea.

Block said his research was based on data from state records and found the highest instances of incomplete personal information in Central Falls, a city well-known as a home for new immigrants. But Block stopped short of concluding that voter fraud took place.

“We have inferred nothing, we imply nothing,” Block said. “We simply did comparative analytics, which is exactly what any quality waste and fraud firm would do, when confronted with a set of data like this, and that’s the result that popped out.”

Good government watchdog group Common Cause RI expressed concern if the violations Block alleges did in fact take place. However, the group also took issue with some portions of Block’s letter, saying it appeared to omit some pertinent information.

"Mr. Block demonstrates his primary goal is not to improve elections in Rhode Island, but rather to seek sensationalistic and possibly misleading headlines," said Common Cause RI head John Marion.