Briefing reveals security planning for 2020 election

Reporters ask questions of RI Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea (at right) at a briefing at the State House on October 22, 2020 outlining preparations for the 2020 election. Photo by Steve Klamkin WPRO News

By Steve Klamkin WPRO News

As Rhode Island election officials begin to process ballots cast by mail and at city and town halls, State Police plan around-the-clock monitoring for potential unrest, the FBI is watching for potential foreign interference, the Attorney General is looking for possible voting, civil rights and other violations.

Officials from these agencies came together in a briefing Thursday organized by Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, who said early voting has proven to be popular during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think that in the end, at least half of the voters will have voted either by mail or in person, or close to that, maybe, which really helps us with election day, November 3rd,” Gorbea said during an hour-long session at the State House.

The session coincidentally came one day after Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe warned that Iran and Russia were trying to influence the outcome of the presidential election, which is nothing new, according to the FBI’s top New England official, who said the U.S. intelligence apparatus has long been monitoring what he called America’s traditional adversaries.

“China, Russia and Iran, where they look to illegally influence United States political process and furthermore, through the use of their tactics, they try to undermine the public’s confidence in our democratic institutions or processes,” said Joseph Bonovolonta, the FBI Special Agent-In-Charge in Boston, which has oversight for FBI activities in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

Rhode Island State Police will be staffing a 24-hour-a-day emergency operations center to monitor any potential unrest in the days before, and after Election Day.

“We’ve given this a lot of thought,” said State Police Superintendent Colonel James Manni. “I’m very confident that Rhode Island has a thorough, comprehensive security plan. And, I’m very confident we have prepared for any scenario that we might encounter over the next days, weeks or months.”

Manni said the Rhode Island National Guard is also prepared to assist, where necessary, although the military is forbidden from taking part in any activities involving elections.

About 92,567 mail ballots have been processed as of 2:30 P.M. Thursday, said Rhode Island Board of Elections Executive Director Robert Rapoza, who said voters can see whether their ballots were received.

Rapoza said the Board has received 113,567 of the 175,439 mail ballots sent to voters who requested a mail ballot.

He said it was not likely that vote totals would be posted until after the night of the election, but could not say how long it would take.