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RI Supreme Court denies Tobon’s case in challenge to San Bento

October 5, 2012

On a 3-2 decision, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has denied Carlos Tobon’s call for a manual recount following his controversial and contested one-vote loss to state Representative William San Bento of Pawtucket.

The state chapter of the ACLU sought the recount after the Board of Elections deemed San Bento the winner. 

The majority ruled the case was not properly before the court because, it says, objections to the approval or exclusion of a mail ballot must be raised when the ballot is certified.

The majority also said that existing law prevents the court from ordering a manual recount in this case.

 According to the ruling, the majority says the relevant statute “sets forth the requirements and procedures for recounts in elections to public office . . . . Nowhere does the the statute provide for a manual recount conducted other than by re-feeding the ballots into the vote-counting machine.”

Chief Justice Paul Suttell and Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg dissented from the majority, noting in part, “In the primary election at issue, the ballots have been counted on four occasions, each resulting in different totals.”

The dissenting justices conclude:

“In our judgment, the present circumstances, where there is but a one vote difference after four machine counts, each resulting in different totals, warrant a manual recount. We would, therefore, order the Board of Elections to hand count all the ballots. Such a recount, we believe would be consistent with the constitutional requirement that the ‘candidate receiving the largest number of votes cast shall be declared elected.’ “

San Bento offered this reaction:

“I’m thrilled. We had four recounts. I ended up coming out in front by a vote. It was a close race. It was hard-fought. I worked hard at it. He [Tobon] worked hard, and I’m glad the Supreme Court voted 3-to-2.”

The long-term rep says he believes the outcome of the case is credible. San Bento adds: “I’m willing and able to serve two more years and longer.”

Via news release, the ACLU’s Steve Brown labeled the court decision “a great loss for fairness and transparency in the election process.”

He adds:

“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.”

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