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Monday, January 22, 2024

Rhode Island "No Labels" may already have committed election fraud

 Alleged signature fraud spotted in Jamestown, Cranston

By Nancy Lavin, Rhode Island Current

A bipartisan group called No Labels trying to prop up a third-party presidential candidate in 2024 is under scrutiny for allegedly submitting forged signatures, including from dead residents, on petition papers to local election administrators. 

The Jamestown Board of Canvassers on Friday unanimously voted to refer some of the party petition papers submitted by No Labels to the Jamestown Police Department, after flagging two dozen signatures of registered voters that did not match the handwriting on town records, said Jamestown Canvassing Clerk Keith Ford. 

Meanwhile, the Cranston Board of Canvassers has also flagged an “unusually high” number of suspicious signatures on papers turned in to the city, including 10 signatures of deceased residents, according to Nick Lima, the city’s election director.

Both municipalities have also reported their concerns to the Rhode Island Board of Elections, which has final review authority on the signatures needed for the aspiring political party to gain ballot access in Rhode Island. 

No other cities or towns have reported suspicious signatures collected by No Labels as of Thursday, according to Chris Hunter, a state elections board spokesperson. Hunter declined to comment on the Jamestown referral to local police.

No Labels, a bipartisan political organization founded in 2010, has been rallying supporters and raising money to potentially run a “unity ticket” with an alternative presidential candidate in the 2024 election. 

First, it needs party recognition in all 50 states, a step which requires collecting a certain amount of signatures of registered voters in each state to gain ballot access.

In Rhode Island, efforts are being led by Gary Sasse, who also serves as director of the Bryant Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University.

Staffers at Texas consulting firm fired

Sasse said in an interview Friday that No Labels would cooperate fully with any state or local investigations on suspected signature fraud. Meanwhile, the Texas political consulting firm Advanced Micro Targeting, which was hired to collect signatures for No Labels, has fired two of its staffers for their roles in alleged forgeries, Sasse said.

It’s not the first time a company hired to collect signatures for a campaign in Rhode Island has been linked to suspected signature fraud. 

Last week, Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign nomination papers raised alarms in five cities and towns in Rhode Island for suspected signature fraud. 

Ramaswamy has since suspended his campaign, but previously responded by tying the alleged forgeries to a staffer with the Missouri company hired to collect signatures in Rhode Island on his campaign’s behalf. That staffer was fired, and reported to local law enforcement, according to his campaign.

Meanwhile Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos’ former congressional campaign remains under investigation by the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General for alleged signature fraud detected during the 2023 special election for the 1st Congressional District. Matos said she was unaware of the forged signatures, which included names of dead people, blaming the vendor hired by her campaign to help with signature collection.

Sasse was surprised to learn that similar signature forgeries were detected on the No Labels petition papers.

“One of the reasons we picked that firm is that they employ their own petition circulators, rather than contract employees,” Sasse said. “We felt it was important to have a high-quality petition circulator.”

He did not dispute the findings of local election administrators, instead expressing gratitude for the review process. 

“In any case where there is evidence of potential felonies, we want to ferret that out,” Sasse said.

Different names, same handwriting

Ford, who was first to draw attention to suspected forgeries on Matos’ congressional campaign signature papers last year, said he saw the same suspicious patterns on the No Labels papers.

It’s not unusual for some signatures collected for a candidate or political group to be rejected – either because the handwriting is too difficult to read, the person is not registered to vote, or they are registered in a different municipality than the one they signed the papers for, among other reasons. 

What caught Ford’s attention was a crop of signature mismatches that appear to be written in the same handwriting – none of which matched the handwriting of the voters within town records.

He called several of the residents whose signatures were questionable; 10 said they did not sign the papers. In total, the Jamestown Board of Canvassers validated 76 of the 123 the signatures turned in by No Labels; of the rejects, 24 were thrown out because of potentially fraudulent handwriting mismatches, with the remainder a mix of unregistered or out-of-district voters, plus a few duplicates, Ford said.

The Cranston Board of Canvassers is still reviewing the 3,757 signatures turned in by No Labels, but already has flagged 10 names of dead residents on the forms reviewed, which was cause for alarm according to Lima.

“Ten doesn’t sound like a lot but there haven’t been 10 deceased voters on all of the petition forms for all candidates reviewed by our board combined over the last 10 years,” Lima said. “It’s extremely, exceedingly rare.”

The Cranston Board of Canvassers has not yet reported the alleged fraud to law enforcement, opting instead to notify the state elections board. However, Lima said the board would do so if the state elections board opts not to take action or pass the suspicions on to state law enforcement.

As of Friday afternoon, local boards of canvassers across Rhode Island had certified 11,366 signatures collected by No Labels, according to the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s office. The group needs to collect 17,884 valid signatures statewide by Aug. 1 to earn party recognition on the November ballot – equal to 5% of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election, as stipulated by state law.

Sasse said No Labels is working to reach that signature target in Rhode Island by February, while also gaining ballot access in 20 other states nationwide. Fourteen states, including Maine, have already recognized No Labels as a new political party, according to Sasse. The remaining states require a candidate, in addition to signatures, for ballot access, Sasse said. 

As for who the group will put forth as a third-party candidate, if anyone, that remains under discussion, Sasse said. 

“We don’t want to be a spoiler,” he said. “We don’t just want any candidate on the unity ticket if they’re not going to be competitive.”

Sasse said the current political climate – and voters’ dissatisfaction with their existing choices – presents a “unique opportunity” for a No Labels to present a viable alternative to the major political parties that have dominated past elections.

But only if the group can get its ticket on the ballot in all 50 states.

‘As transparent as we can be’

“If you don’t have ballot access, you can’t run a serious candidate,” Sasse said. “This election is about our democratic institutions, which are based on choice. Unless you have ballot access, you’re not giving people a real choice.”

Asked whether alleged signature fraud might taint perceptions of the No Labels’ message and strategy, Sasse said no.

“We’re being as transparent as we can be,” he said. “We’ve attended meetings and are cooperating fully.”

Sasse did not know whether the company hired to collect signatures in Rhode Island was also being used in other states where No Labels is seeking ballot access.

Maryanne Martini, a spokesperson for No Labels nationwide, declined to answer specific questions about the ballot access campaign or potential fraud.



Rhode Island Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Rhode Island Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janine L. Weisman for questions: Follow Rhode Island Current on Facebook and Twitter.