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New Election Law Makes It Easier To Run For Office; ACLU Will Seek To Dismiss Pending Suits

Posted: July 12, 2010|Category: Rights of Candidates

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As the result of a new law enacted last month by the General Assembly, the Rhode Island ACLU announced it will be seeking to dismiss two election lawsuits it filed last year – one against the City of Central Falls and the other against East Providence – that have been favorably rendered moot by the law.

The new statute, sponsored by Representative Helio Melo of East Providence, bars municipalities from imposing increased burdens, above and beyond what state law requires, on candidates who wish to run for local office, and repeals previously-authorized city and town charter provisions that allowed for stricter petitioning standards.

In the Central Falls case, a federal judge last year already struck down a charter provision that kept Mayoral candidate Hipolito Fontes off the ballot. The judge agreed with the ACLU that the local Board of Canvassers acted unconstitutionally in disqualifying him for allegedly failing to submit sufficient nomination signatures. In contrast to state law, Central Falls allowed voters to sign only one nomination paper per office; in the case of multiple signatures, the Board of Canvassers accepted the one on the papers that were first filed with the Board. As a result, the Board of Canvassers disqualified more than 60 of Fontes’s signatures because they also appeared on Mayor Charles Moreau’s signature petitions, and Moreau was deemed to have submitted his papers first – two minutes ahead of Fontes. After the Court ruled the Charter provision unconstitutional, the City appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeals in Boston, where the case is pending. Under the new statute, the City Charter ban on multiple signatures is now null and void. The ACLU will seek to have the appeal dismissed as moot and also apply for an award of attorneys’ fees.

The East Providence lawsuit that the ACLU will now move to dismiss was on behalf of 2008 school committee candidate Brian Monteiro, who challenged City Charter provisions that required all candidates for local office to have their nomination papers signed by at least 200 qualified voters and, like Central Falls, barred voters from signing more than one candidate’s nomination papers for the same office. State law requires only 50 certified signatures from candidates seeking to run for ward seats. The City Charter’s more onerous requirements, which are now also null and void under the statute, had been ratified by the General Assembly back in 1957. The ACLU lawsuit argued that these increased burdens violated Monteiro’s constitutional right to due process and equal protection of the laws. That case is pending in federal district court.

The Central Falls case has been handled by ACLU volunteer attorneys Armando Batastini and Timothy Baldwin.  The East Providence case was litigated for the ACLU by Angel Taveras.

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