Mixed feelings arose within the St. Croix District Elections Board as to the effectiveness of the “one board” reform measure recently proposed by Sen. Kenneth Gittens. Board member Lisa Harris-Moorhead went on record to oppose the move, questioning its long-term effectiveness.
“I don’t see how the same people, with the same personal agendas, in one board is going to be any different than two boards. It’s a practical matter,” said Moorhead.
The Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee, of which Gittens is chairman, began the process of updating the territory’s election laws earlier this year, and one major change that could be the elimination of two separate boards in favor of a single policy-making entity.
“We already have one board,” asserted member Glenn Webster, referring to the Joint Board of Elections.
The Joint Board, however, has not been without its share of internal conflict. In August, in-fighting within the board delayed a vote to hire St. Thomas/St. John Deputy Elections Supervisor Kevermay Douglas. The following month, the St. Croix Board chose to boycott a Joint Board meeting on St. Thomas, demanding that those meetings should rotate more frequently.
Most recently, the St. Thomas-St. John District Board voted against funding travel to attend an Oct. 29 reform workshop held on St. Croix.
Joint Board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr., who did not attend that workshop, has opposed the move to combine boards.
That “bickering back and forth,” according to St. Croix board member Raymond Williams, is why the push for reform has been a central issue for the V.I. Legislature.
Despite the division between the boards, when potential voting issues arise in any territory, local authoritative bodies play a key role in resolving those difficulties, Moorhead reminded the other board members.
“When elections are done locally, you’re going to have to deal with the problems where you are,” said Moorhead, adding she was concerned about the effectiveness of a single board in such cases.
Board Chairman Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal expressed her support of the change and said combining the board had the potential of resolving, rather than escalating the conflict.
Despite the various reactions to the measure, any changes to the existing law must first be approved by the Senate and then signed into law by the governor. Gittens, who attended the meeting, has set a deadline of March 2016 to complete elections reforms for submission to the Legislature.
Regulation of any voting laws must be in place six months before an election to allow for absentee and military ballots to be cast.
Wednesday’s meeting comes on the heels of a series of demonstrations of new voting software on St. Croix and St. Thomas. On St. Croix, 41 potential voters tested the machines and provided feedback on their experience with the equipment.
According to Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes, although there were some issues with ballot display, those issues would be corrected by December. At that time, the Board of Elections will begin a second round of user demos throughout the island in preparation for the 2016 election.
Also in attendance were board members Roland Moolenaar and Adelbert Bryan.
Editor’s note: This story originally misnamed the deputy supervisor recently hired for St. Thomas/St. John. The person is Kevermay Douglas.