Aug. 13, 2007 St. John resident Harry Daniel should be seated as a delegate to the upcoming Constitutional Convention, a V.I. Superior Court judge ruled on Monday.
During a hearing held in Superior Court, Judge James S. Carroll III said board of elections members violated local law when they approved a redesign to the special election ballot, which he said placed a cap on the number of delegates elected from St. John.
Carroll said the board misinterpreted the law and results of the election should have been based on the number of the votes rather than the number of delegates coming from St. John.
Carroll explained that the correct interpretation could be garnered from the "plain language" outlined in the V.I.'s Constitutional Convention statute, which requires a minimum of two candidates from St. John, but gives no maximum number.
While Carroll said he would not be ordering a new special election, he asked board of elections members to re-certify the June 12 results to accurately reflect the number of votes each candidate received at the polls. In doing so, no "upper limit" can be imposed on the amount of delegates coming from St. John, Carroll added.
Daniel garnered 1,753 votes overall in the St. Thomas- St. John district race, and the recertification would knock St. Thomas candidate Lisa Williams — who received 1,378 votes — out of the Constitutional Convention process.
Once the new results become official, swearing-in ceremonies for the delegates, which were supposed to have taken place last month, will move forward along with the drafting and deliberation process, Carroll ruled.
He added that Daniel — who took up his challenge against the district boards of elections a few days after the initial results were announced — would have ultimately been denied the opportunity to participate in the convention process had the court not intervened.
"As [Supervisor of Elections John] Abramson testified, the delegates who participate in the Fifth Constitutional Convention may well be known to future generations as the 'founding fathers' of the Virgin Islands," Carroll said. "Daniel's right to be seated as a delegate is, therefore, so precious that no financial remuneration or other relief could adequately compensate Daniel for deprivation of taking his seat as a duly elected delegate."
However, Carroll also explained that Daniel did have an opportunity before the election to challenge the ballot redesign. Though Daniel initially said he was not aware of the changes until the day of the special election, he later admitted that he had read articles in the Daily News describing the revisions and the board's concerns about the original ballot design.
Testifying in court last month, Abramson said that the initial ballot — which was drafted and distributed at the end of May — put St. Thomas and St. John district candidates in one column, with instructions advising voters to select a maximum of 13 delegates, with a minimum of two from St. John.
But St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections members contended that the original ballot was not formatted in accordance with the law and would confuse voters at the polls.
Seven members of the Joint Board of Elections, during an emergency meeting on June 2, subsequently decided to change the ballot design, splitting candidates in the St. Thomas-St. John district into two separate columns (See "Daniel Election Appeal Undecided After Nine-Hour Hearing".)
It is uncertain what stance board of elections members will take on the decision and whether they will be filing an appeal. A meeting to discuss the matter will take place over the next couple of days, St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections Chairman Lawrence Boschulte said Monday in a radio interview.
Daniel celebrated the victory, calling Carroll's ruling "the right decision."
"I feel justice has been served," he said after Monday's hearing. "It's really not a victory for me — it's a victory for all of us. We the people should be represented according to what the law states. And I'm glad the court didn't decide to do another election. I only wanted to be seated as a delegate."
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