NARRAGANSETT – Early results in the Primary Election for Narragansett Town Council are in, though due to a large number of still-uncounted mail-in ballots cast this year because of the pandemic, numbers are unofficial as of Thursday afternoon.
There are 16 candidates competing for 10 spots in the Primary this year, with residents voting for five candidates. Five of the remaining 10 will then be elected to make up a new town council in November’s General Election.
With an official tally last taken Wednesday at approximately 2 p.m., incumbent Jesse Pugh was leading the pack with 940 votes (12.3 percent), followed by challenger and former town council president Susan Cicilline Buonanno with 847 votes (11.1 percent). Rounding out the top three finishers thus far is Republican incumbent Patrick Murray with 729 votes (9.6 percent). Currently in fourth place is challenger Ewa Dzwierzynski with 533 votes (7 percent) and now taking up the fifth and sixth slots are incumbent and council president pro tem Jill Lawler with 519 votes (6.8 percent) and incumbent Richard Lema with 514 votes (6.7 percent). Challenger Joseph Robenhymer currently sits in seventh place with 462 votes (6.1 percent), followed by fellow challengers Stephen Ferrandi with 441 votes (5.8 percent), Michael Millen, Jr. with 429 votes (5.6 percent) and Laurie Kelly with 416 votes (5.5 percent) in the eighth, ninth and tenth slots, respectively.
Rounding out the rest of the early results are David Avedisian with 389 votes (5.1 percent), Deborah Kopech at 372 votes (4.9 percent), Winters Hames III with 338 votes (4.4 percent), Steven Belaus with 321 votes (4.2 percent), Meghan Murray at 214 votes (2.8 percent) and Sara Benn with 154 votes (2 percent).
The numbers thus far reveal a strong showing for supporters of the Narragansett Library project in the Pier Marketplace, a significant issue in town that has dominated council happenings since the start of last term, with Pugh, Cicilline Buonanno and Murray – all strong library project advocates – currently enjoying the top three positions. Dzwierzynski, a challenger and the early fourth-place finisher, has also stated her support for the project.
After 67.9 percent of voters approved a $5.8 million bond referendum for a new library in 2016, the 2018 council boasted a three-member majority that opposed the project on a fiscal and logistic basis and brought it to a screeching halt with votes to sell the $2.8 million plaza property slated to house the new facility and large cuts to the library board’s budget, prompting numerous lawsuits and protests from residents.
As the top vote-getter in the 2018 General Election for town council, Pugh has strongly advocated for the library project to be realized in the Pier Marketplace’s former IGA/Belmont building, frequently clashing with the current council majority on the issue. Cicilline Buonanno, who stated her withdrawal a month before the 2018 election, led the previous council as its president in purchasing the plaza space for $2.8 million to serve as the home of the new Narragansett Library. Murray, meanwhile, initially opposed the purchase in 2017, though ultimately worked to secure an improved version of the deal which granted the town ownership of the property, and voted in favor of that contract in 2018. He, along with Pugh, have battled the council majority this term for the project to be completed in the Pier.
On the reverse side, those not in support of the project, incumbents Lema and Lawler, who make up two members of the current council majority in opposition, now hold fifth and sixth place in the early Primary results, respectively. Ferrandi, a challenger who did not voice support for the project in a recent interview with the Narragansett Times, published on Sept. 4, currently sits in eighth place. Challengers Robenhymer, Millen, Jr., and Kelly, the current chair of the Narragansett Library Board of Trustees, have all stated their support for the project.
While most polls around the state closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, the Rhode Island Board of Elections (BOE) released a statement shortly after noting that results from the state's Primary Election would become available "over the next several days," with the Board stating some mail-in ballots and other votes from emergency voting periods spurred by the pandemic had yet to be counted.
"These are ballots cast at the Boards of Canvassers in City/Town Halls since the Emergency Voting period began on Aug. 19," the BOE's statement reads on emergency voting. "These results will be transmitted by local Boards of Canvassers to the Board of Elections on the morning of Sept. 9 due to how our tabulation systems had to be securely configured to produce these results separately."
"While the Board expects to count most mail ballots by Sept. 8, ballots placed in authorized drop boxes at City/Town Halls or in polling places must still be tabulated," the release continues. "These ballots are sealed in envelopes and held in secure and sealed containers by the local Board of Canvassers and will be delivered to the Board of Elections by noon on Sept. 9. Once these ballots have been processed, mail ballot results will be posted to our website. We expect this to occur by Sept. 10, depending on the volume of ballots received in drop boxes."
The state had a large number of mail-in and emergency ballots this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Official results as of Thursday morning show no mail-in ballots being counted as of yet in the Primary race for Narragansett Town Council, though a number of emergency votes had been tallied. In local races where the current vote disparity between candidates is sometimes in the single digits, the number of mail-in ballots yet to be counted has the potential to significantly alter the early outcome. The RI BOE expects results to be finalized sometime Thursday.
While many candidates across the state have yet to issue statements proclaiming victory or conceding defeat due to the delay in results, some with their hat in the ring for local town council took to social media to issue preliminary statements.
“While we await the final results, I’d like to thank everyone who participated in Democracy yesterday and in the last few weeks with early and mail-in voting,” said Millen, Jr. on his candidate Facebook page. “A special thank you to my supporters, my friends, and especially my family. I am so grateful to have you all with me. There is still a long road ahead, but I am excited and hungry to keep working to win a seat on the Town Council in November.”
I would like to thank everyone who supported and voted for me today,” added Dzwierzynski on social media. “The preliminary results look very positive. We are just awaiting the final tally of mail ballots and early voting which should be available by Thursday.”
“Thank you to everyone who voted for me in the Primary yesterday,” said Meghan Murray, who currently sits in 15th place, on her candidate Facebook page. “It was my first time ever getting into the mix, and I love and care about Narragansett. Needless to say, there are some great candidates for November and they have my full support and trust for our town.”
Results are still unofficial as of this writing.