RI ACLU Sues East Providence Over Ballot Access Restrictions

February 17, 2009 12:00 am

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The Rhode Island ACLU has today filed a federal lawsuit against the City of East Providence, challenging City Charter provisions that impose increased burdens, above and beyond what state law requires, on candidates who wish to run for local office. The lawsuit was filed by RI ACLU volunteer attorney Angel Taveras on behalf of Brian Monteiro, an unsuccessful Ward 2 candidate for the East Providence School Committee in the 2008 primary election.

The East Providence City Charter requires candidates for local office, including ward seats, to have their nomination papers signed by at least 200 qualified voters. The Charter also bars voters from signing more than one candidate’s nomination papers for the same office. However, Rhode Island law allows voters to sign nomination papers for multiple candidates running for the same office, and requires only 50 certified signatures from candidates seeking to run for ward seats.

Despite these state laws, the City Charter’s more onerous requirements were ratified by the General Assembly back in 1957. The ACLU lawsuit argues that these increased burdens violate Monteiro’s constitutional right to due process and equal protection of the laws.

When he ran for office in 2008, Monteiro turned in over 250 signatures; however, only 137 were deemed valid by the Board of Canvassers. The Board invalidated 19 of the signatures because the voter had also signed the nomination papers of his opponent. The lawsuit notes that, had Monteiro run for state representative or state senator from East Providence, he would only have had to obtain 50 or 100 signatures, respectively, to qualify.

Emphasizing this inequity, the lawsuit claims: “There is no reasonable or rational basis for requiring East Providence ward level candidates to obtain 200 signatures on their nominating petitions. Similarly, there is no reasonable or rational basis for allowing East Providence voters to sign only one candidate’s nomination papers for city elective offices, while allowing them to sign more than one nomination paper for candidates running in East Providence for state and federal elections.” The lawsuit suit seeks a court order declaring the provisions unconstitutional.

Monteiro, who hopes to run for office again, said today: “I believe in an open and honest election process; government belongs to those whom it serves, the people. For a few months, I was disillusioned with the political process. However, eventually I realized that I could make things better for all by challenging these charter provisions, and that is why I am going forward with the case.” ACLU attorney Taveras added: “This case is about bringing East Providence in line with other cities and towns in Rhode Island. We should be making it easier, not more difficult, for citizens to run for office.”

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