Rhode Island should study Ana Quezada’s fabulous mail ballot results. (Updated)
Originally published September 10, 2023. Update added charts.
Of all 14 candidates from both parties running in Rhode Island’s special Congressional race for district 1, Democrat state Senator Ana Quezada of Providence received the eighth most votes. She received the 10th most votes on primary day itself, and the 12th most early votes. But on the mail-ballot front, she excelled, coming in third.
That’s quite a showing, and the difference between her mail ballot votes and in-person votes is stunning. Her appeal, let’s say, is surprisingly selective. With the peculiar exception of Donald Carlson, who dropped out of the race shortly before primary day, she’s the only candidate to receive more mail ballot votes than primary-day votes. Not including Quezada and Carlson, the average candidate’s mail ballot votes amounted to just 13% of the candidate’s total votes. For Quezada, it was 57%.
Zooming in on the results, Quezada’s feat becomes even more impressive. In Providence, Quezada came in third place overall on the strength of her top number of mail ballots. She received more mail ballot votes than the top two contenders — Gabriel Amo and Aaron Regunberg — combined. Adding Sandra Cano’s mail ballots to their total just barely overcomes Quezada’s advantage.
At the precinct level, Quezada’s selective appeal takes on new dimensions. She received more than half of all mail ballot votes in eight of the 19 precincts. Yet, in nine of the remaining precincts she received no more than two mail ballots. The contrast with in-person votes is stark, as well. In all but one of the precincts where she won the mail ballot race, her mail ballot votes exceeded her primary-day votes, and in that one, it was a tie. She also lost all but one of the precincts on primary day. And again, other candidates’ mail ballots were fractions of their total votes, not a majority.
Somehow, the enthusiasm for Quezada in certain areas apparently did not spill into other precincts, and it did not translate into in-person votes. In six precincts, she won more than three-quarters of all mail ballots, yet she only won primary day in one of those. How does a candidate do that?
Two possibilities present themselves: plain fraud or ballot harvesting. Thanks to recent changes, no witnesses or notaries are required to be named on mail ballots, so the only name interested Rhode Islanders can check appears if somebody else picks up the ballot for a voter (and the security of that system is not something on which I can comment). On that list, the state has Lazaro Quezada — which is Ana’s husband’s name — picking up 86 mail ballots in the districts in which Ana strongly dominated and 105 total, which is four times more than the next most-prolific collectors. A Miguel Quezada picked up another nine. Most voters sent in or delivered a request form, and there is no record of any help they may have received doing that.
This raises an important question: Given these peculiar results, can the Board of Elections, Secretary of State, and Attorney General even investigate if they wanted to? In some precincts, Quezada received all but a handful of mail ballot votes, so contacting the voters could shed some light, but that’s quite a bit of labor when a simple requirement for witness signatures could make such ballots much more secure. Even if Quezada’s mail ballot efforts are totally straightforward and legal, Rhode Islanders should ask themselves if a campaign of picking up, delivering, and turning in ballots will ensure the representative democracy they want.
Be that as it may, Rhode Islanders should make a point of learning Quezada’s secret, either to justify necessary mail ballot reform or to compete. We can be sure special interests are mastering the game. Indeed, given her limited local reach, it could be that Quezada has merely offered us a warning of what other candidates are already doing, but with more calculation and subtlety.
Featured image by Shutterstock.