Joint Elections Board’s Hands Tied on Early Voting

The Joint Board of Elections met on St. Thomas Friday to finalize the dates for early voting, which is supposed to begin in less than two weeks, but with a key amendment still waiting to be signed into law, their hands were tied.

Without finality on the early voting amendment and without board counsel Kimberly Salisbury, the board has no clear idea on how to proceed, according to Board Chairwoman Alecia Wells.

Board member Rupert Ross said there is an early voting law in the books but it was not enforceable, leading to the joint board’s push for the Legislature to pass an amendment. To his knowledge, that amendment has not been acted upon by Gov. John deJongh Jr., Ross said.

Ross moved, seconded by Roland Moolenaar, to adopt an early voting policy and place it on hold pending the signing of the early voting amendment by the governor. Voting in favor were Wells, Ross, Moolenar, Harry Daniel, Claudette Georges, Lydia Hendricks, Wilma Marsh-Monsanto and Liliana Bellardo de O’Neal. Board member Glen Webster voted no.

Specifically, the board voted to change the early voting hours to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., instead of following regular work hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Per the V.I. Code, which states that early voting should begin on the 14th day before the general election and ends on the third day before the election, the board designated the early voting period to begin Oct. 18 and end Oct. 31.

Election Supervisor Caroline Fawkes informed the board that she has not yet received the budget appropriations for fiscal year 2015, nor the special appropriations for the conduct of the general elections. The Office of Management and Budget is making it a priority, according to Fawkes.

Inter-District Rifts

A discussion on providing polling places with banners containing candidates’ information raised the larger issue of lack of synchronized decisions between the two districts.

The St. Thomas-St. John District Board had previously agreed on constructing banners containing candidates’ photos, party affiliations and ballot numbers, and making these banners available in every district polling place. According to Georges, the law required candidates’ photos to be on the ballot, but since this cannot be done in the November elections, they settled for the banners instead.

In addition to budget concerns and setting a precedent for all subsequent elections, Fawkes cautioned that this might raise electioneering issues. Webster agreed, adding that, “the onus for the campaign is on the person running.”

“The candidates have to do that for himself, not the Board of Elections doing that for them,” Webster said.

Ross said the candidate banners should have been a Joint Board decision.

“Before any of the two districts move forward with this issue, it should have been discussed by the Joint Board as a matter of territorial policy,” Ross said. “The St. Thomas and St. John Board cannot feel that they can go ahead with this and St. Croix not do it.”

“The shoe is on the other foot,” Georges responded.

According to Georges, the St. Thomas Board also experienced going along with St. Croix Board decisions that were not previously discussed on the territorial level.

The two districts have executed some election activities differently, including ways of counting write-ins during the primaries, and the numbering of candidates during the casting of lots for the general elections.

Complaints and Litigation

The board denied a motion to grant Republican primary candidate Herbert Schoenbohm’s request to inspect the Republican ballots.

According to territorial coordinator Tonjia Coverdale, the fact that the DS200s only recorded write-ins with checked ovals could have contributed to concerns on the write-in tallies, including Schoenbohm’s.

Ross objected to the motion made by Bellardo de O’Neal, seconded by Moolenar, saying it was a waste of his time, and that Schoenbohm made the challenge more than seven days after the certification, as required by law.

Georges, Hendricks, Marsh-Monsanto, Wells, Ross and Webster voted against, while Bellardo de O’Neal voted in favor. Moolenar abstained.

According to Fawkes, a few litigations involving the Joint Board and the Election System are still pending, including resident Alan Haynes’ complaint on the conduct of the primaries, and the eligibility of gubernatorial ticket Soraya Diase-Coffelt, a no-party candidate running with Republican John Canegata.

St. Croix District Chairman Adelbert Bryan’s lawsuit is also pending. In the lawsuit, Bryan called for a contempt citation against Fawkes for putting Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen back on the November ballot in spite of the V.I. Supreme Court’s August order to remove Hansen, and for the lower courts to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision.

Fawkes said she was expecting to hear from Superior Court Judge Douglas Brady on both parts of Bryan’s lawsuit on Friday.

Marsh-Monsanto’s Suspension

Board member Marsh-Monsanto’s presence in spite of her suspension by the district board raised questions. During its last meeting, the St. Thomas-St. John Board passed a resolution to suspend Marsh-Monsanto from all board activities until after the general election.

Webster inquired if the district board had the authority to suspend a board member. Marsh-Monsanto herself questioned the validity of a resolution, adding that as of Friday, she has not yet been duly informed why she was being suspended.

“There has been no due process, I have not been notified,” she said. “It’s just ridiculous, and it’s just a matter of trying to defame one’s character.”

Marsh-Monsanto added that she was going to follow the matter through “how it should be handled.”

In spite of the suspension, Wells recognized Marsh-Monsanto during discussions and allowed her to vote on motions.

Present in the Election System’s St. Thomas conference room were Wells, Georges, Hendricks, Ross, Daniel, Moolenar, Webster, Bellardo de O’Neal and Marsh-Monsanto. Arturo Watlington, Larry Boschulte, Adelbert Bryan, Lisa Harris-Moorhead and Raymond Williams were absent.

In other action, the board:

– Approved a motion that directs Fawkes to create a contingency plan in case the backordered blue boxes, into which ballots are deposited by the DS200 tabulating machines, do not arrive on time. Ross made the motion, seconded by Moolenar, and received no objections.

– Approved a motion to grant no new requests for voting machine demonstrations starting Oct. 15 to allow board members to prepare for the general elections.

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