The V.I. Election System and elected election boards have been expecting political parties to pay for primaries and submit primary plans, as a 2012 law requires, but the V.I. Democratic Party is expecting the government to pay this year and this year’s budget has a line item for primary elections.
The Legislature included that $350,000 line item in the Miscellaneous section of the budget with the intention that Elections would conduct the primaries, Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone confirmed Wednesday afternoon.
At its monthly meeting Wednesday, the St. Croix Board of Elections asked Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes to report on efforts to get feedback from the territory’s political parties. She said she had received no response from the Democratic Party. She said she got a response from Herb Schoenbohm, a past Republican Party chairman, but nothing from current State Chairman John Canegata. Several members expressed frustration and said that this presented the board with a dilemma on how to proceed.
"The bottom line is we have not received anything from anybody and the law says the parties have to have their plans approved by the board," member Raymond Williams said. The board cannot approve the primary process if nothing is filed, Williams said.
Member Rupert Ross said the Legislature had passed a line item appropriation in the Election System budget last fall, "showing legislative intent" that it carry out the primaries. He said a similar thing happened in 2012.
Williams said he wanted clarification from the V.I. attorney general. "The fact the appropriation was made does not trump other laws," Williams said.
After turning over the chair to member Liliana Belardo de O’Neal, to allow him to make a motion, Chairman Adelbert Bryan moved the St. Croix Board of Elections withhold nomination packets from party candidates until the parties have submitted primary proposals.
Ross and Williams both objected that would violate the law, which mandates primary dates and the dates nomination papers must be in the hands of candidates.
Voting yea on Bryan’s proposal was Bryan. Voting nay were Ross, Williams and Glenn Webster. O’Neal and Moolenaar abstained. Lisa Harris-Moorhead was absent.
Contacted for comment after the meeting, V.I. Democratic Party State Chairman Cecil Benjamin said he had understood the Legislature approved an appropriation and the election system would be paying for primaries.
"We are not organizing for primaries. We are under the same impression, like everybody else, that it will be funded by the government. We have heard nothing to the contrary," Benjamin said. He said Malone had assured him that the Election System had funding and would be conducting them.
Reached Wednesday afternoon, Malone said it was indeed meant to be a line item in the budget, but the intent may not have been communicated clearly to Elections. Malone said he would check to make sure the appropriation was made as intended, then "if the money is there, (Fawkes) will be told in writing and we will put in a line item to reflect that intention at session." Session is scheduled for April 14-15.
The Legislature intended for a similar process to take place as in 2012, when it also funded primaries on a one-time basis, Malone said, echoing what Ross told the board.
"Of course we agree the parties should pay for the primaries," Malone said. "But we know a lot of voters will not have confidence in the parties holding primaries. It has been so many years (since they held primaries themselves) and the parties have no plan at this date," he said. The parties do not have the money and there is not enough time for them to put together primary plans this cycle, he said.
"We will follow the law and there will be a primary," whatever the outcome, Fawkes said Wednesday afternoon, when told of Malone’s position. She referred questions about the policy to the St. Croix Board of Elections.
The board also finalized a candidate information sheet and other items to go into a packet for each prospective candidate. Attorney General Vincent Frazer rejected a previous version of the information sheet in January, saying it “should not be utilized in its current form" because "the St. Croix district board lacks jurisdiction to superimpose new conditions for candidacy beyond those prescribed by the Revised Organic Act and the election code.”
The new version has explicit references to passages of federal law that it’s purportedly based on. Fawkes said she had taken the candidate information sheet and the rest of the candidate package to Assistant Attorney General Kimberly Salisbury, who had not indicated any problems with it.
It refers to V.I. law banning candidates for Senate who have been convicted of a felony or a "crime of moral turpitude." It also refers to a "Categorical Listing of Crimes of Moral Turpitude." Bryan repeatedly tried, unsuccessfully, to get Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen tossed off the ballot on the grounds that her conviction for failure to file an income tax return qualified as "moral turpitude." (See related links below) But both V.I. and federal law are somewhat vague on what crimes are or are not of this sort.
Harris-Moorhead asked where the list of crimes that constitute "moral turpitude" came from, adding that the list is not in federal law or V.I. law. She also said it was odd that the section of the sheet about turpitude cited a section of federal immigration law.
"Immigration is a very, very distinct area of law," and citing it, instead of V.I. law or a more relevant federal law, would not necessarily provide any legal guidance.
"We have no authority to just put a list of stuff that includes things that are not crimes of moral turpitude in any jurisdiction as far as I know," she said.
Bryan said Deputy Supervisor of Elections Genevieve Whitaker compiled the sheet from "a complicated list of documents."
The list of crimes of moral turpitude appears to be identical to a comprehensive list of crimes of "turpitude" put out by the U.S. State Department for the purposes of determining immigration eligibility. That list is culled from an array of court decisions and administrative rulings. Significantly, the list includes "willful tax evasion."
In other business, the board voted to consolidate four polling places in two locations so that voters who use Florence Williams Library will instead join voters at Pearl B. Larsen Elementary, and John F. Kennedy Housing Community will vote at Juanita Gardine Elementary. It also voted on a spoiled ballot policy, allowing a voter three spoiled ballots, at which point they would get a fourth and final provisional ballot that will be stored with the spoiled ballots for evaluation.