You Make the Call: Voter Fraud, Voter Suppression, or Voter Intimidation
The video obtained by the Projo of Erasmo Ramirez offering to sell mail-in ballots filled out for Anthony Gemma may not be direct evidence of voter fraud, given what voter fraud is commonly understood to mean.
Consider the following: On the surveillance video, Robert Cappuccilli (the potential vote buyer) reads names and addresses off of sealed envelopes purportedly containing completed mail-in ballots. It is possible that each ballot provided by Ramirez was honestly filled out by a legal voter, who took it to Erasmo Ramirez to be notarized (Ramirez makes a point to tell Cappuccilli that he is a notary) and that after notarizing a ballot, Ramirez offered to drop it into the mail as a convenience to the voter, but in reality added it to his collection of votes-for-sale instead.
In this case, there would be no “voter fraud” as the term is usually defined, i.e. someone ineligible to vote casting a vote, or someone attempting to vote multiple times in the same election. But Ramirez would be engaging in voter suppression, if he didn’t turn in all of the ballots that he harvested.
There is another violation of the law seemingly evident on the video. Ramirez claims to know how all of the ballots in his possession are marked, even though they are sealed inside of their envelopes. Assuming that he’s not outright lying to Cappuccilli (not a 100% safe assumption), this is unlikely unless Rhode Island election law has been systematically and repeatedly broken…
17-20-23(d) — Voters receiving a mail ballot pursuant to subdivisions 17-20-2(1), (2), and (4) shall mark the ballot in the presence of two (2) witnesses or some officer authorized by the law of the place where marked to administer oaths. Voters receiving a mail ballot pursuant to subdivision 17-20-2(3) do not need to have their ballot witnessed or notarized. Except as otherwise provided for by this chapter, the voter shall not allow the official or witnesses to see how he or she marks the ballot and the official or witnesses shall hold no communication with the voter, nor the voter with the official or witnesses, as to how the voter is to vote. Thereafter, the voter shall enclose and seal the ballot in the envelope provided for it. The voter shall then execute before the official or witnesses the certification on the envelope. The voter shall then enclose and seal the certified envelope with the ballot in the envelope addressed to the state board and cause the envelope to be delivered to the state board on or before election day.That’s the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is potentially more troubling — for some reason, hundreds of people involved enough in the political process to request mail-in ballots have decided that they cannot fill out their ballots, until they are directly under the watchful eye of Erasmo Ramirez (or one of his associates). How did a message of don’t fill out your ballot until Ramirez can see you get out to hundreds, maybe over 1,000 voters, in the absence of intentional misinformation as a best case scenario and intimidation as the worst?
Finally, one more way in which Ramirez may have broken the law is suggested at the end of W. Zachary Malinowski’s article which accompanied the video: straightforward voter fraud, if all of these names and addresses on the ballots don’t belong to people eligible to vote.
If Robert Cappuccilli actually purchased ballots, then state authorities should have plenty of names to follow up on (including the names and addresses read on the videotape) to determine what scheme Erasmo Ramirez used; voter fraud, voter suppression and/or voter intimidation, to obtain the mail-in ballots he was carrying in his car. And as news of this story spreads, the BoE should be prepared to be contacted by anyone who honestly filled out a ballot and was betrayed by Ramirez. The BoE should inform the public of how many people that is.