As an elections junkie for a number of years and a former Department of the Interior staff member (dealing with the U.S. islands), I read the Source’s coverage of the V.I. Board of Elections with interest, including the most recent one on whether Senator Hansen should or should not have been on the ballot.
I have no position on that issue except to wonder how anyone with such a tax-payment record could get elected to anything. Nor do I have a position on the posture of the anti-Hansen people who want to recall the elected chair of the Board of Elections, Rupert Ross, apparently because the Board of Elections allowed Senator Hansen to be listed on the ballot. These are island-based issues, and I do not have the needed knowledge to comment on them.
Mathematics, however, are universal, and I think it might be helpful to rationally discuss the question of just how many signatures will be needed to put the proposed recall of Ross on the ballot.
Frankly, Elections Superintendent John Abrahamson’s interpretation of the number of signatures needed defies common sense. Before commenting on it in detail, let me remind readers of the Source reporting on this point:
“The group has 60 days to circulate petitions for Ross's recall. However, there was disagreement over how many signatures are needed.
“The Organic Act of 1954 calls for recall proponents to gather ‘a list of signatures equal in number to at least 50 percent of the whole number of votes cast for the office in the last general election at which that office was filled.’
“Proponents argued that that means the number of people who voted for Board of Elections at the last election.
“But Abrahamson pointed out that the law says ‘the whole number of votes cast,’ not the total number of voters. Because seats on the Board of Elections are voted for at large from a pool of candidates, each voter can cast as many as seven votes. The only way to determine the ‘whole number of votes,’ he said, is to add up the number of votes cast for each candidate, whether that person won or lost.
“The result, if every voter cast the total number of allowed votes, would be a total vote seven times greater than the number of people who voted, and recall proponents would have to acquire the signatures of registered voters of half the much larger amount.”
Let’s spell out the implication of Abrahamson’s interpretation, which would make it impossible for any V.I. Board of Elections member ever to be forced into a recall election, but not any governor.
Let’s assume that there is an election for the members of the Board of Elections, and that half the registered voters actually vote, and for the sake of convenience let’s further assume that every voter cast seven votes.
Thus, there would be 3.5 times as many votes as the total number of registered voters in the islands.
If 50 percent of this total were needed for the recall petition, as Abrahamson argues, then this would mean that the number of signatures needed on the petition would be 1.75 times the number of registered voters, an impossibility.
This would not hold true for the governor, as there never could be a situation in which the needed number of signatures for a recall petition could exceed half the number of registered voters, because there are no multiple votes in gubernatorial races.
My point is the people who wrote that provision could not possibly have worked on that interpretation, nor could any judge called upon to review it. Why design a recall provision for members of the Board of Election that can never lead to a recall?
The number seven – the number of votes each voter gets for the Board of Election races – reminds me of another use of that same number in connection with the finances of the Board of Elections, a subject I raised in an op-ed entitled “Waste at the Elections Board – a Symptom?” on August 10, 2008.
I pointed out that the taxpayers in the Virgin Islands pay 7.5 times as much per vote for the operations of the local electoral system as do the taxpayers of my hometown, Arlington, Virginia. We in Arlington have twice as many voters as the territory, yet our electoral staff is smaller, and the individual staff members are paid considerably less than in the Virgin Islands, leading to the eye-popping difference in costs per voter. Since the V.I. operation is smaller, one would expect a somewhat higher per-vote cost, but seven and a half times as much? Hardly.
David S North is a resident of Arlington, Va., and writes occasionally on governmental issues dealing with the U.S. island territories.