From a new 5 percent budget reduction to an inability to get funding for new voting machines, the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections’ monthly board meeting raised more questions than answers Thursday.
One of the first items on the board’s agenda was a discussion on the district’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget, which was initially recommended at approximately $75,000 but allotted at a level of approximately $73,000. District board chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. explained later that recent discussions with Office of Management and Budget Director Debra Gottlieb have forced the board to look at where it can trim another 5 percent, bringing the level to $71,489.
Watlington said that most of the budget is taken up with salary expenses, so the area most likely to be cut is per diem costs. The board assigned member Claudette Georges to work with district elections officials to determine what can be “taken out.”
Board members also discussed bringing online new voting machines but said they were not able to purchase them as yet because the funding source, federal Help America Vote Act money, cannot be tapped until the audit of the territory’s Elections System is complete.
The ongoing audit, conducted by U.S. Election Assistance Commission, was launched in the wake of concerns raised about the system’s handling of the most recent election – specifically how the system spent other HAVA funding released to the government and whether the system followed various requirements of the act.
Board members said that the status of the machines are tied to the HAVA funds, which are tied to the completion of the audit, which cannot be finished because the absence of Elections’ Supervisor John Abramson is making it hard for auditors to find answers to all of their questions.
Abramson, who has been out on medical leave, sent the Joint Board of Elections a letter on Jan. 31, announcing he was resigning his position with an effective date of May 31, 2013. He recently notified the Joint Board he would be unavailable until after that date.
At Thursday’s board meeting, member Wilma Marsh-Monsanto suggested that Abramson not be paid while he’s out on leave over the next few months.
Board members decided to continue discussion on the status of the machines at the next Joint Board of Elections meeting, which is scheduled for Feb. 16 on St. Croix. HAVA funding also cannot be released until the Election System’s new offices on St. Thomas is handicapped accessible (or in compliance with requirements laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act).
Board members said they hoped the facility would be ADA compliant by the end of March.
The board also discussed proposed changes in local elections laws, which board members said put more power into the hands of the Elections supervisor and joint board instead of the individual district boards. Items included the stipulated salary for the supervisor, which some suggested should not be specified in the V.I. Code, along with the selection of deputy supervisors, which comes from recommendations made by the supervisor.
Board members were asked to look over the laws and make proposed recommendations.