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Divided Supreme Court Denies Manual Recount in Tobon-San Bento Election Dispute

Posted: October 05, 2012|

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By a 3-2 vote, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has rejected a petition filed by the RI ACLU that sought an order requiring the state Board of Elections to conduct a manual recount of contested ballots cast in the Representative District 58 Democratic Primary. RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown called the court decision “a great loss for fairness and transparency in the election process.”

The petition, filed on Monday by RI ACLU volunteer attorney Armando Batastini, sought the relief on behalf of candidate Carlos Tobon, whose one-vote loss to incumbent William San Bento has been mired in controversy and confusion since election night, with misplaced ballots, four different vote counts provided by the electronic voting machines, and a precinct with one more voted ballot than completed voter application forms.

The ACLU’s petition had argued, “Allowing the results of an election to turn on the vagaries of imprecise electronic ballot readers and an unknown voter is entirely antithetical to constitutional norms requiring that each legitimate vote count.” However, a majority of the Supreme Court held that state law precluded a manual recount and denied the ACLU’s petition. Chief Justice Paul Suttell and Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg dissented, stating that the Court had on two previous occasions authorized a manual review of ballots. They noted: “As Americans, our most fundamental right is the right to vote,” and that “the present circumstances, where there is but a one vote difference after four machine counts, each resulting in different totals, warrant a manual recount.”

The ACLU’s Brown said: “This case has not been about who wins or who loses the election. It has been about having a fair and transparent election process. We are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court decision fails to vindicate this essential principle. This ruling clearly demonstrates the need for the General Assembly to step in and unambiguously address the issues this messy election has raised and ensure that every legitimate vote cast in an election is counted, and counted correctly. The ACLU will be working next year to promote such action.”
Candidate Tobon added: "We pursued this appeal, not just for myself, but for everyone who cast a vote in the primary election, and I believe that many more people now realize the important role that every one of us plays in choosing our elected officials.”

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