Scott Prevails at Board of Elections. However, Status of Due Process in Rhode Island Still Unclear.
Democratic Party Chairman William Lynch has withdrawn his challenge to Jon Scott’s ballot certification as a candidate for Congress in Rhode Island’s First District. On Friday, candidate Scott was informed by the Board of Elections of the challenge to the Secretary of State’s certification, but was not informed of any specific signatures under challenge, nor of any basis for the challenge at all. According to Scott, he was simply informed that an initial hearing would be held on Monday at 10 am.
The lesson here is that if you decide to run against a powerful figure in Rhode Island, you are subject to being summoned before a state board, without being informed of the specific charge against you. Due process rights, apparently in Rhode Island, don’t extend to those who dare challenge the local political aristocracy — yet ironically enough, protecting people from the aristocracy was one of the reasons that the idea of due process was developed in the first place!
The vagueness of the charge, followed by its immediate withdrawal, makes it pretty clear that Lynch was engaging in an electoral-board version of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (a SLAPP), where the goal is not to win a claim on its merits, but to force a party being sued to expend resources and effort trying to defend themselves. Unfortunately, activities associated with running for office are not covered by the letter of Rhode Island’s anti-SLAPP law, which specifically names the rights of petition and free speech as the activities protected. With political corruption in Rhode Island being what it is, Rhode Island’s good-government forces should seriously consider a campaign to extend SLAPP protections to the right to run for office.
Finally, the fact that the state Board of Elections was ready to follow through on a vague, unspecific charge suggests that things haven’t improved much since March of 2006, when Judge Stephen Fortunato made public note of the BOE’s failure to protect the rights of individuals under its jurisdiction…
Fortunato had criticized the Board of Elections at length for failing to address the First Amendment and due-process rights of targets of an investigation or enforcement action.