Continuing Ballot Count Closes Gap in Gubernatorial Race

As long hours of post-election night ballot counting churned out more numbers, independent gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Mapp inched back from the 50 percent outright majority threshold that would prevent a runoff election. A crowd watches carefully as STT/STJ Election Board Chairman Arturo Watlington, Jr. calls out votes from the hand-count ballots.

As of 9.30 p.m. Thursday, the unofficial results by the Virgin Election System have Mapp holding 48.2 percent while Christensen’s incremental gains placed her closer behind at 37.19 percent.

The report also revealed that Justin Harrigan Sr., who placed eighth on election night, overtook Donald Cole by 31 votes in the St. Thomas senatorial race.

This latest Elections System report still reflects only 33 of 37 precincts have been counted. Each district has a bin for absentee ballots and for early ballots, which are counted as “precincts” in the report, accounting for the remaining four bins, St. Croix board member Rupert Ross said.

Progress on the count was slow on St. Croix, which left many observers and board members frustrated.

"It’s been 46 hours; this is ridiculous," said St. Croix resident Pat Oliver.

A large number of ballots from four St. Croix precincts were not run through the DS200s on election night. On Wednesday, the board separated party symbol and write-in ballots, including ballots with Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen’s stickers, from the rest of the Elena Christian Junior High pile, and then ran the rest through the tabulators. The process was repeated for ballots from John F. Kennedy Community Center and Lew Muckle Elementary School.

At 5 p.m. Thursday, the board began to process roughly 1,000 ballots from Alexander Henderson Elementary School, and was finished late Thursday night.

On St. Thomas, district board members are making steady progress. At 2 p.m. Wednesday, the board scanned 497 ballots from the Joseph Sibilly A precinct, where the DS200 broke down on election night. At the same time, polling judges separated party symbol and write-in ballots from the freshly opened DS200 storage bin containing some 1,091 early voting ballots.

On Thursday, board members manually counted ballots with write-ins and party symbols, and ran reports as they completed categories of ballots.

Under Watchful Eye

On St. Thomas, District Board Chairman Arturo Watlington called out votes from the hand-counted ballots under the watchful eye of candidates and supporters. At least 10 people at a time crowded around Watlington as he called out votes from the hand counts, the crowd confirming the board chairman’s information against the ballots and keeping their own tallies.

“I’m standing right over his shoulder and looking at them as he’s looking at them, and making the same assessments that he is,” said St. Thomas voter and Tregenza Roach supporter Sheena Conway, who said that the board was doing the counting in plain view.

Joint Board Chairwoman Alecia Wells and board members Lydia Hendricks and Claudette Georges kept three individual tallies as Watlington called out the votes.

Throughout the count, the board fielded questions and objections from the crowd against voters not scanning their own ballots in the first place, which they said led to the long, tense nights of counting.

According to Conway, the board was “good and conscientious” about including as many votes as possible during the hand count, adding that Watlington gave people the opportunity to object, and would answer questions about the objection.

“I do think we’re getting the information that we need and they’re trying to be as accurate as possible,” said Conway.

Election officials also called out the numbers on DS200 seals, allowing the crowd to take photos and videos to confirm that the seals being opened matched the seals from the last time the machines were locked up.

“I don’t think that there was any stealing of the ballots,” said Mapp supporter Cleveland Carbon. “Everything was sealed. We recorded the numbers and that process was fairly straight.”

The counting on St. Croix was rockier.

In addition to the DS200 jamming regularly and slowing down the process, minor irregularities drew attention and discussion during the two days of post-election night counting.

On St. Croix, Board of Elections Chairman Adelbert Bryan announced at one point that two empty, unused ballot boxes were dropped off at elections Thursday by an unnamed police officer. Board member Rupert Ross said they were going to contact the police to find out exactly what happened, but the boxes were empty and no used boxes from precincts are missing, added Ross.

Around 4:30 p.m., as the St. Croix Board’s administrative assistant, Terrell Alexander, opened one of two bins from Henderson, he called out the serial numbers on seals on the outer doors of the bin as he cut them, but inside the outer doors, the blue ballot box was locked, but had no seals. This prompted Hansen and some Mapp supporters to say that was improper.

"Obviously the judge put the box in and sealed it without putting seals on the box," said Ross, adding that a mistake was made, but the ballots remained secure behind the outer door seals. Ross said they contacted the judge, who would come in Friday to explain what happened.

The St. Thomas-St. John Board has finished hand counting the Guy Benjamin and Julius Sprauve precincts on St. John, as well as early voting write-in and symbol votes.

According to Georges, they have no clear estimate on how many ballots are left uncounted in the district. District count resumes 10 a.m. Friday.

St. Croix will begin the district hand counts Friday morning. Board member Rupert Ross said counting would continue through the weekend until complete.

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