Board of Elections Chairman Rupert Ross sent letters to the governor and Senate President Ronald Russell last Tuesday asking for a meeting to discuss the fiscal situation of the election system, which, according to the chairman, does not have any funds to conduct the 2012 general election.
During its Feb. 17 meeting, the Joint Board of Elections voted to have Ross arrange a meeting between the executive committee and the governor and legislature to discuss what Supervisor of Elections John Abramson said was a fiscal crisis brought about by budget cuts. The original budget for the Elections System during the current fiscal year was $1.1 million, a reduction from the previous year’s $1.3 million. Then, in the round of budget cuts occasioned by the economic malaise affecting the entire territory, that budget was reduced by another $400,000.
Ross’s letter suggested a March 23 meeting. Contacted at home Saturday evening, Ross said he has not yet received a reply, but expected one sometime in the coming week.
His letters were sent to the Source by an organization called VI Action Group, the same people who have been organizing a recall effort against Ross and other members of the St. Croix District Board of Elections. The reason why the group released the letter or how they came into their hands was not explained in the accompanying e-mail.
In the letter Ross expressed concern that the Board of Elections is responsible for conducting the November general election, but added, "To date NO funds have been identified or appropriated for that purpose. The agency’s staffing level is not adequate for the upcoming election cycle."
In a phone interview Saturday night, Ross pointed out that the election takes place in the next fiscal year, but that the current budget does not contain the funds necessary to adequately prepare for it.
In the recent past, he said, Elections has petitioned the government in spring of the election year for additional funds to conduct the election. Those funds include the cost of hiring election workers for Election Day and contractors to install and maintain the election equipment, among other things, he said.
"Those are not part of the Elections System’s regular budget," he said. "If it were required to run a primary election, if it is supposed to conduct a recall election, we have no funding for that."
He also pointed out that the Senate has enacted a law requiring voters be allowed to use a paper ballot if they prefer, but no money has been allocated to print paper ballots or provide a means for counting them.
"The Elections System is currently operating a budget reduced by $400,000 and trying to live with it," he said. "It does not allow for any contingency or emergency."
During the Feb. 17 meeting, Abramson also told the board the budget cuts may have violated an agreement with the federal government. In 2003, under the Help America Vote Act, the agency was required to maintain the expenditure of funds for activities covered by the agreement at not less than the level before November 2000, which Abramson said was about $1.8 million.
That will also be part of the discussion with the executive and legislative branches, Ross said, when and if that meeting occurs.