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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, June 21, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesACCOUNTABILITY: A CASUALTY OF THE AT-LARGE PLAN

ACCOUNTABILITY: A CASUALTY OF THE AT-LARGE PLAN

Dear Source,
The early morning "elected at-large" amendment, passed by the 24th Legislature to change the process by which Virgin Islands senators are elected, goes directly against the national trend of more district accountability.
Members of the Legislature who voted for this amendment have justified their action by saying that the at-large system would increase accountability. Clearly the at-large system would only take the Legislature of the U.S. Virgin Islands further from the ideal of a direct and effective representative government. An example to be emulated is the U.S. House of Representatives. Members of that body oftentimes vote on measures that have no impact or consequences on the states or districts they represent; yet that system of representative government achieves far more accountability and credibility than any other system in existence. It is a system that has been tried and tested in numerous locations around the world. Among all the states and territories, only in the U.S. Virgin Islands can you find a sub-par system of representative government in the 21st century.
The clandestine late-night rush to pass such a far-reaching piece of legislation without public debate and input is blatantly disrespectful of the voters of our Territory. The voters were robbed of their right to voice their opinion at a time when they have repeatedly stated that they desire constructive changes in their government. In the 1998 and 2000 general elections, for example, the public voted overwhelmingly in nonbinding referendums for numbered seats and a reduction in the number of senators, respectively. Yet, those mandates were not addressed by the 23rd and 24th Legislatures because it was noted that not enough public input and education went into those proposals – a criticism charged by some of the same legislators who supported such a radical change to the way U.S. Virgin Islands voters elect them.
The at-large selection process would further remove the Legislature from being a body of the people by causing the cost of senatorial campaigns to increase drastically. The incumbent senators, with the backing of well-oiled political machines, would be better able to bear this cost (and thus be more easily re-elected) than presumptive new candidates.
It is obvious that the Senate majority is of the strong opinion that by virtue of their power they can force their will on the majority of the people. The precipitous introduction of legislation of this magnitude should not be condoned or tolerated by the public.
I urge all Virgin Islands residents to support the Numbered Seats Initiative. Although not ideal, it is certainly one way for the U.S. Virgin Islands to bring their system of governance into the 21st century. All Virgin Islanders should make their voices heard on this important issue.
Shawn-Michael Malone
St. Thomas

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