In the race for Rhode Island Secretary of State, Republican John Carlevale and Democrat Nellie Gorbea are sharply divided on the state’s voter ID statute, which was passed into law three years ago.
Gorbea doesn’t see the need for the statute and questions whether it may be disenfranchising legitimate voters. Carlevale calls it a well-crafted law that is helping to stamp out voter fraud in the Ocean State.
During an Oct. 19, 2014 debate on "10 News Conference," Carlevale responded to criticism from Gorbea by trying to illustrate the scope of the problem with fraudulent voting before the legislature, in 2011, passed the controversial law, which requires voters to show photo identification.
"Let’s talk about the four members of the General Assembly who went to vote in 2010 and were told they already voted," Carlevale said (at the 5:40 mark in the video). "They were disenfranchised."
That caught our attention. If four state legislators were victims of voter impersonation in a single election, that would indicate voter fraud would have been pretty widespread.
We called Carlevale who told us that the legislators testified about their first-hand experience with voter impersonation when the ID bill was being debated at the State House.
But he said he could remember the name of only one of the legislators: Rep. Anastasia P. Williams, a Providence Democrat. He said she would probably recall the other names and recommended we call her. We tried to contact her repeatedly by phone and by email but couldn’t reach her.
We checked news reports on the 2011 legislative session and found references in several Journal stories to an allegation made by Williams that she was a victim of voter fraud in 2006. No details were included in those initial stories.
In a subsequent PolitiFact Rhode Island item on voter fraud, Williams provided more details, saying that "she and her daughter went to their polling place in 2006, only to discover that two other people had used their names."
She spoke about her claim again in interviews in 2012 with reporters for The New Republic and The Providence Phoenix. According to The New Republic story, Williams said that "in 2006 her vote was stolen by an illegal alien who was promised a passport by a state official." A more detailed account was included in the Phoenix story.
(Additionally, according to the New Republic story, "during the 2010 elections, [Williams] says she saw a Hispanic man vote twice at the same polling place, wearing a different outfit each time. "What caught my eye was [he] was a hottie," she told the reporter.)
Williams never filed a complaint with the Board of Elections about any alleged instance of fraud.
The only other legislator named in news reports who spoke of specific cases of voter fraud was Sen. Harold Metts, who sponsored the ID bill in the Senate. According to those stories, Metts said that over the course of 20 years, constituents had told him about fraudulent voting practices at the polls, including one occasion when a man identified himself but couldn’t spell his own name correctly.
Metts, however, never said that he had been a victim himself. When we called him, he confirmed that was the case. He also could not recall any members of the General Assembly apart from Williams who said they had been impersonated at the polls.
(The Phoenix story on voter fraud also included anecdotes from Sen. William Walaska and Rep. J. Patrick O’Neill in which they alleged voting irregularities, but not impersonation.)
We checked recordings of the debates on the House and Senate floor before the ID bill was passed. In the House session, Williams said that she and her daughter had been victims of voter fraud without offering further details. She also made reference to seeing two men each vote twice in one election. Then-Rep. Leo Medina implied that people voted illegally in an election he lost in 2004, but nobody else talked of being impersonated at the polls.
In the Senate session, Metts recounted anecdotes of fraud from constituents and repeated the claim Williams made about being impersonated, but no senators said that they had been victims of fraud.
We called Robert Kando, executive director of the Rhode Island Board of Elections, who said that in the nine years that he has been at the board there has never been a confirmed case in which one voter has tried to impersonate another.
Robert Rapoza, the board’s elections director, said that he has not come across a confirmed case in his 17 years at the board.
Kando said that Anastasia Williams was the only legislator he could recall who alleged being a victim of voter fraud during the 2011 debate about the ID bill. He confirmed that she never filed a complaint.
A database compiled by students at Arizona State University of voter fraud cases across the nation between 2002 and 2012 found only five complaints in Rhode Island. None involved voter impersonation.
In addition, Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University Law School who tracks voter impersonation cases, has found only 44 credible cases around the country since 2000. None were in Rhode Island.
When we shared what we found with Carlevale, he said: "There was a report that I read somewhere, that there were two or three additional members of the General Assembly who had a similar experience to Anastasia [Williams.]" But he said he couldn’t immediately locate it.
John Carlevale said that four members of the Rhode Island General Assembly "went to vote in 2010 and were told they had already voted."
Carlevale’s statement, which he’s made in at least one other debate, is dramatic and specific. He’s saying that on multiple occasions in one election people impersonated legislators at the polls.
The claim hints at a wider problem. Legislators are presumably well-known and recognizable in their districts. If their votes were stolen, then many others must have been too.
But we could find only one legislator who made a public claim along those lines: Rep. Anastasia Williams, who says she was impersonated at the polls -- in 2006. She never filed a complaint.
We rule Carlevale’s statement False.
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