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St. Croix Board of Elections Considers All Paper Ballots

The St. Croix Board of Elections passed a motion Wednesday stipulating if new vote tabulators the Joint Board of Elections contracted to purchase are not here by September, St. Croix will use only paper ballots in the 2014 election.

The move was a response to concerns raised by Chairman Adelbert Bryan that a cabal of officials are conspiring to prevent the purchase of the machines. There was no discussion of why such a decision was more appropriate now than it would be in September.

The machines in question are a pet project of Bryan’s, who has argued vociferously for the past two years that the territory’s voting machines are out of date and unreliable, pushing for the purchase of new machines that have a voter-verified paper trail.

The Joint Board selected a company and a machine early in 2012 and the Legislature approved funding to purchase the machines in April 2012. Gov. John deJongh Jr. signed the appropriation in May of that year.

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On Aug. 30, 2012, Weber said the new machines were under contract but could not be purchased in time for the 2012 general election because the funding was frozen by the federal government until the St. Thomas-St. John District Elections office becomes compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The V.I. Legislature also approved $2.1 million in bond funding for the machines and other election system needs. But in January, Office of Management and Budget Executive Director Debra Gottlieb sent the V.I. Election System a letter saying the government could not release the funds appropriated by the Legislature because the ongoing fiscal crisis had forced the government to divert the funds to pay for other appropriations approved by the Legislature.

The federal government inspected St. Thomas’ election offices in February and since that time has certified the office to be compliant. St. Croix Board of Elections members Rupert Ross and Lisa Harris-Moorhead said they believe this means the V.I. Election System can now cut a check and finalize the purchase.

"We have the money and all we have to do is pay them," Harris-Moorhead said. She said the Joint Board directed Deputy Supervisor of Elections James Weber III to make the payment, but he resigned before making it.

Bryan said the Joint Board did not take a vote to direct Weber to make the payment.

"I’m not arguing that we voted, I am just saying we as members of the board instructed him to pay," Harris-Moorhead responded.

"I’m not saying no, I’m just saying we did not vote on it and the transcript should reflect what we are doing," Bryan said.

Bryan said he was concerned about comments made by Stephanie Barnes, the territory’s Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, at a March 15 meeting, suggesting the St. Croix office was not a good place for public meetings. He suggested they meant Barnes was going to prevent the federal Election Assistance Commission from releasing the funds.

"I knew something was fishy when that lady appeared here," Bryan said.

Williams, Ross and Harris Moorhead all objected that Barnes had no power over the EAC and only offered advice on being compliant.

"First of all, this office is not ADA noncompliant. There has not been a federal determination of noncompliance and she was just making reference to things she saw and giving her opinion," Williams said.

"Barnes role is to assist the governor in identifying problems, but it would be the federal officials that would have to do an inspection during full occupancy and that has not been done," Harris-Moorhead said.

Bryan said Harris-Moorhead does not work for the federal government, so cannot know.

"You can say what you like but she does not work for the federal government," Harris-Moorhead responded.

Ross said he opposed the measure "because it is a decision that has to be made at the Joint Board level."

Voting to use paper ballots only if machines are not purchased by September were: Bryan, members Glenn Webster, Roland Moolenaar and Liliana de O’Neal. Voting nay were Ross, Harris-Moorhead and Williams.

The board unanimously approved a motion from Harris-Moorhead to recommend to the Joint Board that it request OMB provide copies of any correspondence between Supervisor of Elections John Abramson concerning the $2.1 million in legislative appropriations OMB has declined to release.

It also unanimously approved a motion from Harris-Moorhead to assess what equipment, such as privacy screens and voting stations, are needed to ensure voter’s privacy as they prepare their ballots, before putting them into the anticipated new tabulators.

After the vote, during public comments, St. Croix resident Mary Moorhead suggested the board also look into whether the old voting machines could be repurposed as voting stations where voters could fill out ballots in privacy.

In other business, Bryan accepted an offer from Harris-Moorhead to prepare draft legislative language addressing a series of election calendar dates that need changing to meet federal law regarding when ballots must be provided to soldiers serving overseas.

The board also read a letter from Joint Board of Elections Chair Alecia Wells saying election system vehicles "should only be driven by authorized government employees due to liability issues."

The letter refers to the revelation during Senate hearings March 27 that Bryan had taken personal possession of the V.I. Elections System’s St. Croix vehicle and is currently driving it himself. (See related links below)

"I have not seen any written notice to any previous chairs," Bryan said after the letter was read. "I need Alecia Wells as joint chair to give me a list of so called authorized government employees due to liability issues, and for the insurance policy. I don’t have a problem with the statement and will have to write for an explanation," he said.

V.I. Election System budget documents for 2013 list the vehicle as a 2007 Jeep Commander purchased for use by the Supervisor of Elections. The St. Croix Board of Elections is a separate entity with a separate budget from the V.I. Elections System, which owns the vehicle.

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The St. Croix Board of Elections passed a motion Wednesday stipulating if new vote tabulators the Joint Board of Elections contracted to purchase are not here by September, St. Croix will use only paper ballots in the 2014 election.

The move was a response to concerns raised by Chairman Adelbert Bryan that a cabal of officials are conspiring to prevent the purchase of the machines. There was no discussion of why such a decision was more appropriate now than it would be in September.

The machines in question are a pet project of Bryan's, who has argued vociferously for the past two years that the territory's voting machines are out of date and unreliable, pushing for the purchase of new machines that have a voter-verified paper trail.

The Joint Board selected a company and a machine early in 2012 and the Legislature approved funding to purchase the machines in April 2012. Gov. John deJongh Jr. signed the appropriation in May of that year.

On Aug. 30, 2012, Weber said the new machines were under contract but could not be purchased in time for the 2012 general election because the funding was frozen by the federal government until the St. Thomas-St. John District Elections office becomes compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The V.I. Legislature also approved $2.1 million in bond funding for the machines and other election system needs. But in January, Office of Management and Budget Executive Director Debra Gottlieb sent the V.I. Election System a letter saying the government could not release the funds appropriated by the Legislature because the ongoing fiscal crisis had forced the government to divert the funds to pay for other appropriations approved by the Legislature.

The federal government inspected St. Thomas' election offices in February and since that time has certified the office to be compliant. St. Croix Board of Elections members Rupert Ross and Lisa Harris-Moorhead said they believe this means the V.I. Election System can now cut a check and finalize the purchase.

"We have the money and all we have to do is pay them," Harris-Moorhead said. She said the Joint Board directed Deputy Supervisor of Elections James Weber III to make the payment, but he resigned before making it.

Bryan said the Joint Board did not take a vote to direct Weber to make the payment.

"I'm not arguing that we voted, I am just saying we as members of the board instructed him to pay," Harris-Moorhead responded.

"I'm not saying no, I'm just saying we did not vote on it and the transcript should reflect what we are doing," Bryan said.

Bryan said he was concerned about comments made by Stephanie Barnes, the territory's Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, at a March 15 meeting, suggesting the St. Croix office was not a good place for public meetings. He suggested they meant Barnes was going to prevent the federal Election Assistance Commission from releasing the funds.

"I knew something was fishy when that lady appeared here," Bryan said.

Williams, Ross and Harris Moorhead all objected that Barnes had no power over the EAC and only offered advice on being compliant.

"First of all, this office is not ADA noncompliant. There has not been a federal determination of noncompliance and she was just making reference to things she saw and giving her opinion," Williams said.

"Barnes role is to assist the governor in identifying problems, but it would be the federal officials that would have to do an inspection during full occupancy and that has not been done," Harris-Moorhead said.

Bryan said Harris-Moorhead does not work for the federal government, so cannot know.

"You can say what you like but she does not work for the federal government," Harris-Moorhead responded.

Ross said he opposed the measure "because it is a decision that has to be made at the Joint Board level."

Voting to use paper ballots only if machines are not purchased by September were: Bryan, members Glenn Webster, Roland Moolenaar and Liliana de O'Neal. Voting nay were Ross, Harris-Moorhead and Williams.

The board unanimously approved a motion from Harris-Moorhead to recommend to the Joint Board that it request OMB provide copies of any correspondence between Supervisor of Elections John Abramson concerning the $2.1 million in legislative appropriations OMB has declined to release.

It also unanimously approved a motion from Harris-Moorhead to assess what equipment, such as privacy screens and voting stations, are needed to ensure voter's privacy as they prepare their ballots, before putting them into the anticipated new tabulators.

After the vote, during public comments, St. Croix resident Mary Moorhead suggested the board also look into whether the old voting machines could be repurposed as voting stations where voters could fill out ballots in privacy.

In other business, Bryan accepted an offer from Harris-Moorhead to prepare draft legislative language addressing a series of election calendar dates that need changing to meet federal law regarding when ballots must be provided to soldiers serving overseas.

The board also read a letter from Joint Board of Elections Chair Alecia Wells saying election system vehicles "should only be driven by authorized government employees due to liability issues."

The letter refers to the revelation during Senate hearings March 27 that Bryan had taken personal possession of the V.I. Elections System's St. Croix vehicle and is currently driving it himself. (See related links below)

"I have not seen any written notice to any previous chairs," Bryan said after the letter was read. "I need Alecia Wells as joint chair to give me a list of so called authorized government employees due to liability issues, and for the insurance policy. I don't have a problem with the statement and will have to write for an explanation," he said.

V.I. Election System budget documents for 2013 list the vehicle as a 2007 Jeep Commander purchased for use by the Supervisor of Elections. The St. Croix Board of Elections is a separate entity with a separate budget from the V.I. Elections System, which owns the vehicle.