Elections Coordinator Resigns; U.S. Attorney Appoints Complaints Overseer

Five days before the general election, Election Systems Coordinator Tonjia Coverdale resigned shortly after the Thursday Joint Elections Board emergency meeting in which she came under fire by some board members.

“I don’t care if I don’t come to another meeting,” Coverdale said during the meeting when some board members loudly questioned her advice that the newly acquired DS200 equipment be used during the general election.

“Having been hired as an expert technologist … I remain extremely disappointed that my numerous attempts to explain the compliance of the DS200 with the Virgin Islands code to members of the Joint Boards of Elections have been dismissed without allowing me to provide an ample explanation or even outright disputed using uninformed logic," Coverdale wrote in her resignation letter.

During the meeting, Coverdale used as a hypothetical illustration a case in which a voter picked the Democratic Party symbol, and then voted for a Republican delegate to congress. In that case, the DS200 would choose the vote for the Republican candidate for delegate and retain the Democratic Party votes in all the other categories, Coverdale said.

According to Coverdale, the Election System also received a statement from ES&S, the machine vendor, saying 14 other states are using the same programming, and that this has been confirmed by the Election Assistance Commission.

In a test run, however, in which a voter selected the party symbol and then voted for candidates outside the party, the DS200 voided the party candidates in the categories where candidates outside of the party were also selected, which is how some board members and board counsel Kim Salisbury initially understood the machines would work. Instead of kicking out the ballot, the DS200 accepted it without informing the voter that votes had been deleted.

Board member Arturo Watlington did not put credence in Coverdale’s assurance that the machines are in compliance with the V.I. Code.

“She is not a lawyer to be interpreting the law,” said Watlington. “Our lawyer went through it with her. We went through all the scenarios.”

Coverdale, however, wrote that board members are trying to discredit the DS200 voting machines by creating errors in cases where errors should occur, such as when a voter selects both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in answering referendum questions.

“This is not an error in the operation of the machine and is not to be conveyed as such," Coverdale said.

Coverdale was in charge of making sure that technology used in the election, including the DS200 tabulating machines, work properly. During the primaries she worked with ES&S technicians when several devices encountered a glitch, and visited polling sites to check on the machines.

During the primary vote count on St. Thomas, Coverdale was also in charge of making sure the jump drives returned from the polling places were not tampered with, and that they are the same jump drives originally inserted in the DS200s to record ballot information.

Election Supervisor Caroline Fawkes said Friday morning she had not yet read the resignation letter, but she said it should not be a major problem.

“It’s fine. We have a lot of voting technicians so it’ll work out,” said Fawkes. “Everything is set for the election so it’s nothing major really.”

Complaints

With the DS200s, voters have the opportunity to recast their votes if their ballots are found to be spoiled by the machine. Without use of the machines, voters lose the opportunity to correct spoiled ballots.

On Thursday, gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Mapp and Janelle Sarauw filed a request for a temporary restraining order in Superior Court against the Joint Board of Elections and the district boards for preventing the use of the DS200s by voters. Mapp and Sarauw also asked for an emergency hearing prior to election to review what his campaign described as “a blatant violation of Virgin Islands law.”

"Not using these new machines that the board purchased will deny many Virgin Islanders their constitutional right to have their vote counted,” Mapp said in a news release.

On Wednesday, St. Croix resident Patricia Oliver wrote to Alphonse Andrews, elections officer at the United States Attorney’s Office, enumerating a slew of complaints, including the suspension of early voting on St. Croix. Oliver also expressed concern about not being able to use DS200s in the general election, and instead leaving her ballot to be handled by election officials.

“If past is prolog, ballots and ballot counts will appear and disappear and the process up to election certification will most likely take forever if not longer,” wrote Oliver.

In statement released Thursday, U.S. Attorney Ronald Sharpe said he had appointed Andrews as district election officer for the territory. Andrews would be responsible for “handling complaints of election fraud and voting rights abuses in consultation with the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.

“Every citizen must be able to vote without interference or discrimination or to have that vote counted without it being stolen because of fraud,” Sharpe said in the news release. "The Department of Justice will act promptly and aggressively to protect the integrity of the election process.”

Federal Bureau of Investigation special agents will also be in field offices on St. Thomas and St. Croix to receive election complaints on Nov. 4, according to the statement. Sharpe encouraged those who have specific information about discrimination or election fraud to report such abuses to his office, the FBI or the Civil Rights Division.

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