After battling for more than a month to stay in the V.I. gubernatorial race, independent candidate Soraya Diase Coffelt won on appeal a challenge to an Elections System ruling that would have kicked her and runningmate John Canegata off the November general election ballot.
Diase Coffelt has been waging her battle in court since July, but was initially dealt a blow after the V.I. District Court upheld an Elections System ruling that disqualified her from the race. In early June, Diase Coffelt switched her running mate from Warren Mosler to John Canegata, a Republican, who Elections officials contested could not appear on the same ticket as the independent.
Diase Coffelt challenged the ruling in federal court and was at first granted a temporary restraining order until District Court Judge Wilma Lewis considered whether to grant a permanent injunction. In the meantime, Elections printed sample ballots that did not include the names of the mixed-party team, and officials recently said – after Lewis issued a ruling upholding the Elections System’s decision to disqualify Diase Coffelt and Canegata – that they would not include their names on the ballot for the General Election.
Diase Coffelt took the case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued a ruling this week supporting her position. While there is no language in the V.I. Code that would necessarily allow Canegata to run, there’s nothing that specifically prohibits it, either, according to the ruling.
“The District Court concluded that the Election Code was silent on the permissability of Canegata’s candidacy; that this silence was ambiguous; and that as a result, the Supervisor of Elections’ interpretation of the Code, which the Court found persuasive, was entitled to deference,” the Third Circuit opinion said.
While other states’ elections codes would have forced Canegata to separate himself from his party, the territory’s code does not. The team should be allowed to run, according to the Third Circuit.
In a news release Wednesday, Diase Coffelt applauded the court’s decision, which she said was unanimous by a three-judge panel.
“The illegal actions of the Supervisor of Elections to keep us off the ballot have been voided,” Diase Coffelt said in her statement.
“This is a ground-breaking decision for the people of the Virgin Islands because it solidifies the right of the people to nominate candidates of their choice no matter what political persuasion that candidate may have.”
“This is a tremendous victory for the people,” Diase Coffelt said, “a victory that will change the face of the election process and allow more qualified candidates to run together.”