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Rhode Island passes casino, ethics measures, chooses Clinton

November 9, 2016 GMT
Mayor Jorge Elorza, foreground, speaks to voters at the Summit Commons polling place Tuesday morning, Nov. 8, 2016 in Providence, R.I., where some voters waited more than an hour to cast ballots. Elorza came to explain how poll workers were trying to speed up the process and to thank voters for their patience. (AP Photo/Matt O'Brien)
Mayor Jorge Elorza, foreground, speaks to voters at the Summit Commons polling place Tuesday morning, Nov. 8, 2016 in Providence, R.I., where some voters waited more than an hour to cast ballots. Elorza came to explain how poll workers were trying to speed up the process and to thank voters for their patience. (AP Photo/Matt O'Brien)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island voters passed seven ballot questions Tuesday and chose Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

But one of the most important races for statewide politics was in suburban Cranston, where Democratic state House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello was fighting GOP attorney Steve Frias in an election that was too close to call.

Frias, a national GOP committeeman for Rhode Island, was leading by a thin margin late Tuesday after ballots cast at polling places were counted. Mattiello expressed confidence he would win once absentee ballots were counted.

The election has been closely watched around the state because toppling Mattiello would create a power vacuum in the state’s Democratic-dominated House.

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Voters easily approved a Mattiello-backed constitutional amendment restoring power to an ethics commission over state lawmakers. And they approved a measure allowing a new casino to be built in Tiverton, near the Massachusetts border.

Some voters waited more than two hours Tuesday as they cast ballots in the presidential race, chose state and U.S. lawmakers and answered the seven statewide questions.

Both of Rhode Island’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives won re-election. Democratic U.S. Rep. David Cicilline won a fourth term. Democratic U.S. Rep. James Langevin won a ninth term.

The yes vote on statewide Question 1, and approval of a companion measure by town voters in Tiverton, allows casino operator Twin River to transfer its license for the aging Newport Grand to a new casino it wants to build in Tiverton. Roughly $3 million was spent to campaign for the measure. It was supported by the state’s political leadership because of gambling’s contribution to state revenue.

The approval of Question 2 amends the state constitution to give the Rhode Island Ethics Commission authority to investigate and sanction state lawmakers. It restores oversight the commission once had over the General Assembly, but which was lost in a 2009 court ruling.

Voters approved five bond measures totaling $227.5 million: Question 3, which asked for $27 million to finish constructing a new state home for veterans; Question 4, for $45.5 million on academic buildings centered at the University of Rhode Island; Question 5, for $70 million to expand two major cargo seaports; Question 6, for $35 million toward recreation and environmental projects; and Question 7, for $50 million to build affordable housing and revitalize urban areas.

Backlogged vote-scanning machines kept voters waiting more than an hour — in some cases more than two hours — to cast ballots at some polling places with high voter turnout. The lines were so backed up on Providence’s East Side, a liberal-leaning neighborhood where turnout is traditionally high, that Mayor Jorge Elorza visited some polling places to try to speed up the process and thank those waiting for their patience.

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Sarah Mack, a rabbi, waited about 90 minutes to cast her ballot.

“It was a really warm, lovely, communal spirit, considering the wait,” said Mack, who said she voted for Clinton. She brought her two young sons to witness the moment.

“It was important for me that they see this today,” she said. “It’s an important moment in history and I wanted them to be able to say, ‘I came to the polls with my mom in 2016.’”

Trump found support in some of Rhode Island’s suburban precincts. Louise Mernick, a medical sonographer, said Tuesday her distrust of Clinton was the main reason she cast a ballot for Trump at her polling place at the Hope Highlands Middle School in Cranston.

“He’s a little bit impulsive,” Mernick said, but she said she is hoping that if Trump is elected president, “he’ll surround himself with the best of the best.”

Trump won April’s GOP primary in Rhode Island by a large margin, and Clinton lost by nearly 12 percentage points to Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Still, Clinton received significantly more votes than Trump did then.

The number of registered Democrats in Rhode Island is three times the number of registered Republicans, though independents outnumber them both. Ronald Reagan was the last Republican presidential candidate to take the state in 1984.