Court Provisionally Restores Aspiring GOP Convention Delegates’ Voting Rights

A judge has provisionally reinstated voting privileges of four new V.I. residents, allowing them to vie in Thursday’s V.I. GOP caucus for election as V.I. delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention later this year. The decision is provisional, pending a March 22 court hearing on the question.

Two of the four, John Yob and Ethan Eilon, are prominent career GOP campaign consultants. Both also say they make most of their income through tech companies they own. They are in the process of seeking V.I. Economic Development Commission tax breaks for companies they plan to establish in the territory, Yob and Eilon have confirmed to the Source.

In emails, Yob said he has been planning to move to the territory since 2011 and plans to remain here for the foreseeable future and raise his family here. 

A third, Ethan Eilon’s wife Lindsey Eilon, is chair of a GOP super pac.

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The fourth, Erica Yob, is John Yob’s wife. The four are among 42 V.I. republicans seeking six open slots as delegates to the national convention in Thursday’s caucus.

John Yob just published a book about manipulating chaos at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

His book published in February, titled "Chaos: The Outsider’s Guide to a Contested Republican Convention," makes a case that what happens in the U.S. territories, including the USVI, may make the difference between "chaos" and "catastrophe" for the GOP at the national convention. (See: New GOP Arrivals Removed from Voter Lists over Residency)

On March 4, Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes sent a letter to V.I. GOP State Chairman John Canegata saying the four people had been changed to "ineligible" and would not be eligible to register to vote in the USVI until March 27. Fawkes said John Yob appeared at the St. John Election Office in order to vote in early January and that he’d been told he had to reside in the territory for 90 days before he can register.

"He informed the elections assistant he arrived on the island a week before, which made him ineligible. He then took the information gained and traveled to the St. Thomas Elections office and provided a falsified date within the parameters to meet the requirement," Fawkes said in the letter.

"We have also obtained a copy of Mr. Yob’s Facebook page, "which states they moved to St. John, USVI, on Dec. 18, 2015," Fawkes said.

The Yobs and Eilons filed a motion requesting a temporary restraining order and injunction against V.I. Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes, requesting their voting rights be restored. They have also filed a complaint asking the court to permanently reinstate their voting rights. Both filings make similar arguments.

In their filings, they argue Fawkes "failed to correctly interpret Virgin Islands law, which only requires 90 days of residency before a primary or general election," and so they "should never have been removed."

Yob made the same argument personally, Tuesday evening. The awkwardly worded law requires residency "for a period of at least 90 days next preceding the date of the election."

They also argue that a 90-day residency requirement is unconstitutional, citing a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Dunn v. Blumstein, that invalidated a 90-day Tennessee residency requirement on the grounds that it violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

USVI residents have U.S. citizenship through congressional statute, not through the U.S. Constitution, which could be a factor in whether that court case applies. Current and former V.I. elected officials recently signed on to amicus briefs asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case about the lack of full citizenship rights in the territory. (See: Plaskett and Other Insular Leaders Brief Supreme Court in Insular Birthright Citizenship Case in Related Links below)

Several early 20th-century Supreme Court cases collectively referred to as the Insular Cases, limit the citizenship rights of residents in the insular territories, including the USVI. That case deals with a Samoan national denied a job in California because the job required citizenship, thus denying equal protection under the 14th amendment. It seeks to overturn the Insular Cases, among other things. Samoa residents do not have statutory citizenship, unlike the USVI.

The Yobs and Eilons also claim in their court filings that St. Croix Board Chairwoman Liliana Belardo de O’Neal "abused the powers of her office" by directing Fawkes to remove them from the voter roles.

"Ms. Belardo’s husband is seeking to be a delegate from the Virgin Islands for the Republican convention," they write. “Ms. Belardo’s husband would be competing against the plaintiffs for a delegate position at Republican Virgin Islands caucus of March 10, 2015.”

Belardo de O’Neal, as a member of the St. Croix Board of Elections, helps make policy and does not have direct day-to-day authority over Fawkes. The Joint Boards of Elections, of which she is one member, has power to terminate or extend Fawkes’ employment, however.

Former V.I. GOP State Chairman Herbert Schoenbohm filed an affidavit supporting the Yobs’ and Eilons’ claim that Belardo de O’Neal is responsible for their removal from the voting rolls. According to Schoenbohm’s affidavit, he "received an unsolicited phone call" from Belardo de O’Neal, saying "she was on her own authority, "directing" that Mr. and Mrs. Yob be listed as "inactive" on the voter rolls."

Schoenbohm said, "I specifically asked her if she had the authority to remove anyone from the voter rolls. She replied that "No I don’t but it will be done.’"

Complicating interpretation of his affidavit, Schoenbohm has been documented making factual statements that are demonstrably incorrect, and when their inaccuracy is shown to him, of continuing to assert the accuracy of his demonstrably incorrect statement.

In 2009, for instance, Schoenbohm sent out an email asserting then-Delegate Donna Christensen was recorded "voting no against a 13 week extension of unemployment compensation … ." But Christensen was not a member of the committees that voted on the bill and the V.I. delegate to Congress has no vote on the floor. As a result, Christensen did not cast a vote and it was not possible for Christensen to cast a vote on the bill. Informed of this, Schoenbohm continued to insist, incorrectly, that Christensen voted no on the bill. (See: V.I. GOP Chair Peddling False Accusation About Christensen in Related Links below)

On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay approved the Yobs’ and Eilons’ request for a temporary restraining order, citing their argument that they would face "irreparable harm" otherwise, because the election for delegates to the convention would be over. She ordered the Election System to "provisionally change" the voting status. The order is in effect for 14 days "and shall automatically expire unless extended by further court order … ."

The court will hold a hearing on the motion March 22 in Courtroom no. 4 of the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands at the Alexander A. Farrelly Justice Center on St. Thomas.

The court "reserves the right, after a preliminary injunction hearing, to determine if plaintiffs were legally included as eligible to vote, failing which their eligibility may be retroactively revoked," Mackay wrote in the order.

When asked about their removal, Belardo de O’Neal referred questions to Fawkes, saying the boards of elections do not handle voter registration.

Reached for comment Thursday evening, Fawkes said the matter was "before the court" and she would not comment until the court gave its final ruling in the matter because it is an ongoing legal matter.

As of 11 p.m. Thursday, the V.I. GOP was still counting the votes in the caucus for delegates to the convention. Canegata said Thursday evening that if any of the four persons whose eligibility is contested are among the winners, but the court ultimately determines they were not eligible to vote, the question of their candidacy would go to a party dispute resolution committee.

If someone who initially wins a spot is ultimately determined to be ineligible, the next highest vote-getter will take his or her place, Canegata said.

"I am trying to be fair and impartial," Canegata said, adding, "I understand some people are concerned about their representing the territory when they moved here so recently."

"We have a provision within our own party for a disputes committee, which will look at the initial suspension. The court has a lot of weight also, and we will give a lot of weight to the court’s decision," he said.

Not all party members are concerned about their newly arrived status. "They are heavyweights. This is a political guru," V.I. GOP member John Clendinen said earlier this week, adding that he felt it could be good for the territory and the party to have people with extensive resumes like that in their delegation to the national convention.

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