July 20, 2004 – Some $4 million in federal funds for the V.I. Election System is being held up because the V.I. government has failed to provide $200,000 in matching funds, John Abramson Jr., supervisor of elections, told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.
Abramson said the territory has received $1 million in Title I funds and $3 million in Title III funds from Congress in connection with the Help America Vote Act of 2002. However, the money cannot be utilized until the government provides a mandatory 5 percent match which works out to be $200,000, he said.
"I want to include for the record, that the responsibility for providing the necessary finances for implementation of statutory mandates rests solely with the Legislature," Abramson told the committee.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said the $200,000 was included in the fiscal year 2004 supplemental budget but with no indication of what the money was to be used for, so the funds could not be released. He said he would work on new legislation to release the money to the election system.
"It's hard to know that money is there available and we can't use it," Abramson said.
Abramson said there have been problems with long lines at polling places, in particular at the Joseph Gomez Elementary School on St. Thomas, and that he was hoping to use Help America Vote funds to purchase 15 new voting machines for the St. Thomas-St. John district.
In presenting the Election System budget request for FY 2005, Abramson said the governor's proposed $1,019,377 "does provide an adequate level of funding for the day-to-day operations of the agency."
Abramson also told the committee that after the 2002 general election, in accordance with law, 8,201 registered voters were removed from the rolls 4,126 on St. Croix and 4,075 in the St. Thomas-St. John district because of their failure to vote in two successive general elections.
He also said the Election System is working to implement a computerized voter registration system territorywide. He said he needs a mandate from the Legislature to switch over to the electronic system.
In response to questioning by senators, Abramson said the sites on St. John for electronic voting probably can be phased in during November if needed funds are made available. St. John would be done first, he added, because it has only two polling places.
Abramson said one other problem that he wants to address is the St. John office, currently located at the Battery. He said he is contemplating recommending to the board that it close the office because of potential health problems.
Members of the committee commended Abramson and his staff for the work they have been doing. "I do believe that we have one of the best election systems in the world," Sen. Roosevelt David said.
Committee members attending the budget hearing were the chair, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg; and Sens. David, Malone, Luther Renee and Ronald Russell. Not present were Sens. Norman Jn Baptiste and Louis Hill.
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