The “fiscal crisis” facing the V.I. Board of Elections is not only due to its extravagant use of money for its two large boards of elections (when one small board would do just fine, the subject of a recent op-ed piece). The board also has left more than a quarter of a million dollars in federal funds sitting in Washington.
From what I gather from the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission, the V.I. agency has these funds set aside for it, but it has not bothered to file applications for them. It is not totally clear to me, but it sounds like all the territory has to do is to file an acceptable application to get the money.
These funds, unlike a lot of federal moneys, do not require a local match, and are not subject to a competitive process.
All the territory has to do is to file an acceptable application. By definition – and spoken by one who used to get a number of small federal research grants on a competitive basis – these are the easiest federal funds to secure. The Virgin Islands has ignored these funds for four years in a row!
This information is no secret. If you go to http://www.eac.gov/assets/1/workflow_staging/Documents/4794.PDF, which is part of the website of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, you will find a spreadsheet showing all the allocations of all the Commission’s assistance funds for every year since 2003, for every state and territory.
The commission’s webmaster has thoughtfully put the data for non-claimed funds in a green highlight and if you scroll down you will find the non-use of these funds by the Virgin Islands in the years 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
FY 2008 $115,000
FY 2009 $100,000
FY 2010 $70,000
FY 2011 $1,291
In earlier years the V.I. election unit had, in fact, collected $2,399,361 in these funds, but it has collected nothing in recent years.
It all reminds me of the sad story of the Turnbull administration’s Department of Education, which as I reported at the time had the dismal record of leaving more federal funds on the table, per student, than any other jurisdiction under the U.S. flag, year after year. These were also non-competitive, non-matching grants – all the department had to do was to file acceptable applications for the moneys. I gather that the department’s record on this score has improved considerably under Governor de Jongh.
Returning to the neglected election assistance funds, I understand that one of the problems is that the local election system is not, in bureaucratic terms, “ADA compliant.” ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of the useful things coming out of the first Bush administration.
Presumably this means that one or more V.I. polling places cannot be reached by someone in a wheelchair, something that should be fixed whether or not there are federal funds involved. (I must admit to bias on this point; my son-in-law, a skilled lawyer, lives in a wheelchair; I want him to be able to vote without someone carrying him up a flight of stairs.)
The Commission may have other issues as well, but the Virgin Islands are among a tiny minority of jurisdictions that is not receiving these funds.
Correction: In an earlier op-ed I had pointed out that one of the reasons for the Board of Elections fiscal problems was the presence of two six-member boards of elections, when my hometown, Arlington, Va., gets by with one three-member elections board. The V.I. boards cost $194,909 in a recent year compared to Arlington’s costs, for exactly the same function, of $16,046; and Arlington has 3.5 times as many voters as the V.I. Well, I was wrong about the number of members of each of the V.I. boards, they each have seven members, not six. My apologies.