In Elections Board Complaint, Donastorg Blames Weather, Storm Prep

Asking for a do-over of this year’s primary election, former Sen. Adlah “Foncie” Donastorg raised at least 20 questions or concerns from bad weather to double voting in a multi-page complaint discussed Monday during a St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections meeting.

Donastorg, who put in a bid for governor but got knocked out during the primary, had initially submitted his complaint right after the election and asked for Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes to send in a response by Aug. 8. During Monday’s meeting, Fawkes said she had emailed Donastorg by that date and said she had sent his concerns on to both district boards.

Looking over the list, St. Thomas-St. John board chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. said during Monday’s meeting that he didn’t see anything on the list of merit – at least enough to trigger another election – and told the Source after the meeting that the board will soon be responding on its own to the complaint. The issue will also be raised during a Joint Board of Elections meeting scheduled for Aug. 27.

In his complaint, Donastorg spoke primarily about the weather and the impact that Tropical Storm Bertha preparations could have had on the outcome of the election.

Ports, for example, were closed from 11 p.m. on Aug. 1 to 6:00 p.m. on Aug. 2, which he said prevented voters that normally travel over to St. Thomas from St. John or Tortola from making it to their polling sites. Donastorg also said that the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency had, in one of its storm alerts, “encouraged” residents to stay at home during the storm, while at least one local radio host had gone on air and told residents to consider voting early by absentee ballot because of the impending “inclement weather.”

If that happened, Donastorg then questioned what the Elections protocol was for screening voters. Watlington said during the meeting that while the system does not turn people away from the polls, they do double-check the registration and party status of each voter that has turned in a provisional or absentee ballot at the offices.

Donastorg also alleged that there were instances of double voting during the primary, where residents voted by walk-in absentee ballot and at the polling sites. In his letter, Donastorg said this was done to “test the abilities” of the system to determine whether poll workers and system officials were doing their jobs, but Watlington said Monday that anyone doing that has committed elections fraud and, if they reveal themselves, they would be turned over to the authorities.

Citing other instances of elections “breaches,” and “inconsistencies” in numbers, Donastorg said overall, the system’s decision to hold the primary during the storm “disregarded the safety, security and democratic rights” of V.I. residents.

Ballot Counting

The board is still in the process of counting walk-in and mail-in absentee ballots, along with provisional ballots, Watlington said Monday.

During the meeting, Fawkes said that a set of ballots had mistakenly been mailed to St. Croix, and were just mailed back, while Deputy Elections Supervisor Nefrediezha Barbel added that she had just received two ballots in the mail.

Speaking to the Source after the meeting, Watlington said the deadline for closing out the absentee ballots is Tuesday, and anything received after that cannot be counted. As of Monday, Watlington said the board had received a total of 118 mail-in ballots.

Personnel Issues

The board went into executive session Monday to discuss issues surrounding Barbel, who had recently filed a complaint against Watlington, who she said “accosted and assaulted” her during an incident at the St. Thomas-St. John office.

Watlington has admitted to grabbing a set of ballots out of Barbel’s hands, but he told the Source recently that it was after he had asked her to put them back where she had found them. He added that he did not assault her. The issue was mentioned briefly during the public portion of the meeting and after executive session, Watlington said that the district board had discussed several of their own complaints against Barbel that have been mounting since February.

The issue will also be discussed by the Joint Board of Elections during its upcoming meeting, but Watlington said that Barbel has not been fired or released and still has the “right to due process” on any complaint she files.

In other news, the board also approved its fiscal year 2015 budget, which they will be presenting before the Legislature Tuesday.

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