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Group Petitions Recall of Six St. Croix Elections Board Members

V.I. Action Group member Colleen Clarke talks to reporters with fellow activist Patricial Oliver.Concerned St. Croix citizens calling themselves V.I. Action Group submitted recall petitions Monday for six members of the St. Croix Board of Elections. The group feels the board members were derelict in their duty when they allowed Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen to be certified as a candidate.

St. Croix residents Colleen Clarke, Epiphane Joseph and Patricia Oliver dropped off the signatures at noon Monday, just before the 60-day deadline established by law.

The residents said they believed they had enough signatures to trigger a recall election, but declined to say how many signatures they had collected.

"They are still being stamped," Joseph explained. As he spoke, Elections Office staff were counting and stamping all the petition forms, which formed a stack at least 18 inches high. Elections staff said they would not have a final count until much later Monday or possibly Tuesday.

The number of signatures needed is under dispute, as Clarke, Oliver, Joseph and seven other individuals filed suit in February, challenging the V.I. Supervisor of Elections’ interpretation of the statute in the Revised Organic Act of 1954 governing recalls.

The Organic Act of 1954 calls for recall proponents to gather "a list of signatures equal in number to at least 50 percent of the whole number of votes cast for the office in the last general election at which that office was filled."

During a board meeting last year, Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr. interpreted the law as "the whole number of votes cast," not the total number of voters. And because seats on the Board of Elections are voted for at-large from a pool of candidates, each voter can cast as many as seven votes.
The only way to determine the "whole number of votes," he said, is to add up the number of votes cast for each candidate, whether that person won or lost.

The total number of votes cast in the 2010 election for the three openings on the St. Croix Board of Elections was 22,984, so by that formula, the threshold for a recall petition is 11,492.

Clarke and others argued that Abramson’s interpretation is unreasonable because with voters selecting several candidates for the office, the threshold number of signatures could be higher than the total number of registered voters in the territory.

Instead, they argue the federal law means 50 percent of the number of people who voted for that particular candidate, a much lower number.

For example, Elections Board member Raymond Williams received 5,268 votes in the last election, so by the formula preferred by V.I. Action Group, it would take only 2,634 signatures to trigger a recall.

Using that threshold would make it exceptionally easy to mount a recall campaign, allowing a fraction of the number of individuals who supported the candidate at the polls to force a new election.

For comparison, the state of Wisconsin, which held recall elections for some members of its legislature last year and will hold a recall election for Gov. Scott Walker in June, requires signatures equal to 25 percent of the number of people who cast votes for the office in question. If that rule were applied to the territory, the threshold would be 25 percent of the number of people who cast votes for the St. Croix Board of Elections in the last election.

That number is not broken out separately in the elections results available online at the elections system website (vivote.gov), but is likely to be slightly less than the 31,160 people who cast votes in the gubernatorial election using the same ballot in 2010. So if the territory used the Wisconsin standard (it does not use that standard), it would take somewhat fewer than 7,790 signatures to trigger a recall for a member of the St. Croix Board of Elections.

To date, all filings in the case have been made by the plaintiffs and no response has been filed by the defendants.

The case has been assigned to District Court Judge Wilma Lewis, who has not yet issued any rulings.

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