Reader Jane Higgins asks:
- "Did the voters of the USVI vote to reduce the number of senators years ago in a public referendum? What happened to the voter’s voice?
- How much is the entire appropriation for building, cars, offices, staffs, expenses and salaries for the USVI Legislature? Can we the people stop funding the Legislature?
- Can we the people impeach the entire Senate body?"
On Nov. 8, 2000, a referendum on reducing the size of the Senate passed by 14,949 to 2,120. Of those in favor of the reduction, 12,589 wanted to see the number of senators reduced to nine; 2,826 preferred 11 senators; 48 voters did not indicate a preference, according to reporting in the Source at the time; however the referendum, unlike an initiative, was not legally binding and had to be enacted into law by the Legislature, which declined to do so.
The Legislature voted itself a $19.8 million budget for fiscal 2012 – unchanged from the year before – and under the U.S. Revised Organic Act of 1954, the Legislature has control over the government’s purse strings, one of the reasons impeachment questions come up.
The word "impeach" has a complicated meaning and does not literally mean to remove a person from elected office. In theory, voters can remove a senator from office, or overturn any piece of legislation, through the initiative and recall process established in the Organic Act. However, in practice, the requirements are very high and very difficult to meet, and require a recall on the ballot.
The Organic Act specifies that to get a recall on the ballot, one must gather signatures "equal in number to at least 50 percent of the whole number of votes cast for that office in the last general election." The person will be removed from office if at the recall election "at least two-thirds of the number of persons voting for such official in the last preceding general election … vote in favor of recall and in which those so voting constitute a majority."
There have been several recall efforts in the past two decades, including a sustained effort to recall four St. Croix senators in 2007 for voting for very large pay increases at the end of a late-night, end of year legislative session. All have failed to date.
Citizens can also create or overturn laws through initiatives. To get an initiative on the ballot, one needs at least 10 percent of the voters of each district or 41 percent of all registered voters in the territory. If enough signatures are gathered, the legislature can adopt the initiative or reject it. If it is rejected by the legislature, it will appear on the ballot in the next general election, unless the legislature holds a special election for the purpose. When it comes to a vote, a majority of registered voters must cast a vote and a majority of the votes cast must be in favor of the initiative for it to pass.
So, it is possible to overturn any legislative action, but it requires a high degree of outrage and a broad consensus on the specific problem to be addressed and its solution.