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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, June 30, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesEXPLORE ELECTION REFORM BEFORE ACTING

EXPLORE ELECTION REFORM BEFORE ACTING

In a recent issue of a local newspaper, Paul Leary, retired university professor of political science discussed reforms that he believes addresses a number of issues regarding our legislature and the electoral process. Anyone who has followed the talk shows, guest editorials and letters to the editor on this topic know that the subject of improving territorial governance through an improved electoral system is a topic that is dear to me.
After observing our electoral process at work during and following elections, I have concluded repeatedly that fundamental systemic problems are evident. Many of these systemic problems serve as the causes of fleeting and unreliable relationships that are developed within our legislative bodies' life cycles.
I have opined further that the overly simplified solution often heard to, "get rid of all of them," fails to address the complex problems with a system that no longer delivers what the electorate wants or needs. Instead, it brings out the worse in many that serve as senators. Native sons and daughters are seen as incompetent and incapable of governing due to the flaws in a system that pits them all in continuous disharmony with each other.
It is gratifying to know that many of my past views are in sync with Professor Leary's observations. But, I disagree with the idea of reducing the number of senators. Cutting costs is often offered as one reason for this proposal. I wonder if restructuring the legislature to provide two at-large senators, and a single senator for St. John in a nine-member legislature as he proposes will, in fact, result in meaningful operational savings. Not only will a second at-large senator seek the same trappings of office that exist for our single at-large senator, the remaining seven district senators in the nine member body that he suggests will undoubtedly seek additional staff to compensate for their increased workload.
Even if the nine member design of the legislature excludes a separate seat for St. John, but maintains the single at-large seat for a resident of St. John with the eight remaining seats distributed four each for St. Thomas and St. Croix, any savings realized from this reduced member legislature must be weighed against other important considerations.
Savings in overall operational costs may not be worth upsetting the "critical mass" requirement that Professor Frank Jordan spoke about recently in supporting the current fifteen-member legislature.
Will a nine-member legislature elected pursuant to our current election method increase or decrease the likelihood of having a legislative body adequately reflect the composition, interests and needs of the population? I believe that before we tinker with the size of our legislature, the "critical mass" issue among others should be reflected upon further.
I do not believe that the number of senators has much to do with the concerns that trouble us. I believe that our focus should be on other fronts. We should consider the following: limiting legislative sessions to 105 days each calendar year, except for gubernatorial calls into special session; reducing legislative pay from $65,000 to $40,000 for a part-time legislature; orchestrating electoral reform initiatives that explore alternative election methods, ultimately resulting in an improved method for selecting senators. When filled, these three prescriptions will result in a more meaningful experience for Virgin Islanders.
Even though I have advocated the adoption of numbered seats many times in the past, I have paused in my advocacy of this method since it does not reflect current trends in election reform. Instead, I have advocated the creation of a Commission on Election Reform to explore and examine election methods that are slowly advancing to the forefront of the reform movement. A considerable amount of information exists on options other than numbered seats or numbered places and we owe it to ourselves to become versed in them before adopting any major change.
In his advocacy for numbered seats, Professor Leary calls for a winning candidate to obtain a majority of votes. Can the reader imagine a series of run-off elections among numbered seats candidates to obtain the 50 percent +1 vote that would be required to elect each successful numbered seat candidate?
If we are daring enough, there is a way to eliminate the need for run-off elections altogether. This up and coming new method that a Study and Advisory Commission would examine is, Instant Run-Off which eliminates the need for an actual run off election to select a candidate who receives the minimum 50 percent +1 to be elected.
In Instant Run-Off, each voter ranks his choices as 1,2,3, etc. and an easily explained and simple mathematical procedure is employed to count the votes to determine the winner. This same Instant Run-Off method can be applied to our gubernatorial elections; thereby, eliminating the need for an actual, costly, run off election.
A version of Choice Voting has been in use in Cambridge Mass for more than fifty years, and while Cambridge is not the average community, the efficacy of the voting method is what I believe is important in considering a new election method for the Virgin Islands.
GAYLORD A. SPRAUVE
Retired Public Administrator
garthursprauve@att.net

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In a recent issue of a local newspaper, Paul Leary, retired university professor of political science discussed reforms that he believes addresses a number of issues regarding our legislature and the electoral process. Anyone who has followed the talk shows, guest editorials and letters to the editor on this topic know that the subject of improving territorial governance through an improved electoral system is a topic that is dear to me.
After observing our electoral process at work during and following elections, I have concluded repeatedly that fundamental systemic problems are evident. Many of these systemic problems serve as the causes of fleeting and unreliable relationships that are developed within our legislative bodies' life cycles.
I have opined further that the overly simplified solution often heard to, "get rid of all of them," fails to address the complex problems with a system that no longer delivers what the electorate wants or needs. Instead, it brings out the worse in many that serve as senators. Native sons and daughters are seen as incompetent and incapable of governing due to the flaws in a system that pits them all in continuous disharmony with each other.
It is gratifying to know that many of my past views are in sync with Professor Leary's observations. But, I disagree with the idea of reducing the number of senators. Cutting costs is often offered as one reason for this proposal. I wonder if restructuring the legislature to provide two at-large senators, and a single senator for St. John in a nine-member legislature as he proposes will, in fact, result in meaningful operational savings. Not only will a second at-large senator seek the same trappings of office that exist for our single at-large senator, the remaining seven district senators in the nine member body that he suggests will undoubtedly seek additional staff to compensate for their increased workload.
Even if the nine member design of the legislature excludes a separate seat for St. John, but maintains the single at-large seat for a resident of St. John with the eight remaining seats distributed four each for St. Thomas and St. Croix, any savings realized from this reduced member legislature must be weighed against other important considerations.
Savings in overall operational costs may not be worth upsetting the "critical mass" requirement that Professor Frank Jordan spoke about recently in supporting the current fifteen-member legislature.
Will a nine-member legislature elected pursuant to our current election method increase or decrease the likelihood of having a legislative body adequately reflect the composition, interests and needs of the population? I believe that before we tinker with the size of our legislature, the "critical mass" issue among others should be reflected upon further.
I do not believe that the number of senators has much to do with the concerns that trouble us. I believe that our focus should be on other fronts. We should consider the following: limiting legislative sessions to 105 days each calendar year, except for gubernatorial calls into special session; reducing legislative pay from $65,000 to $40,000 for a part-time legislature; orchestrating electoral reform initiatives that explore alternative election methods, ultimately resulting in an improved method for selecting senators. When filled, these three prescriptions will result in a more meaningful experience for Virgin Islanders.
Even though I have advocated the adoption of numbered seats many times in the past, I have paused in my advocacy of this method since it does not reflect current trends in election reform. Instead, I have advocated the creation of a Commission on Election Reform to explore and examine election methods that are slowly advancing to the forefront of the reform movement. A considerable amount of information exists on options other than numbered seats or numbered places and we owe it to ourselves to become versed in them before adopting any major change.
In his advocacy for numbered seats, Professor Leary calls for a winning candidate to obtain a majority of votes. Can the reader imagine a series of run-off elections among numbered seats candidates to obtain the 50 percent +1 vote that would be required to elect each successful numbered seat candidate?
If we are daring enough, there is a way to eliminate the need for run-off elections altogether. This up and coming new method that a Study and Advisory Commission would examine is, Instant Run-Off which eliminates the need for an actual run off election to select a candidate who receives the minimum 50 percent +1 to be elected.
In Instant Run-Off, each voter ranks his choices as 1,2,3, etc. and an easily explained and simple mathematical procedure is employed to count the votes to determine the winner. This same Instant Run-Off method can be applied to our gubernatorial elections; thereby, eliminating the need for an actual, costly, run off election.
A version of Choice Voting has been in use in Cambridge Mass for more than fifty years, and while Cambridge is not the average community, the efficacy of the voting method is what I believe is important in considering a new election method for the Virgin Islands.
GAYLORD A. SPRAUVE
Retired Public Administrator
garthursprauve@att.net