Less than an hour after three contested Virgin Islands GOP delegates were granted an injunction in Superior Court stating they will likely not be disqualified based on length of residency in the territory, V.I. GOP Chairman John Canegata moved to disqualify all six of the local party’s delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention and replace them with ‘alternate’ runner-ups.
Canegata justified his decision in a press release saying that none of the delegates had complied with a party rule stating they must accept their positions in writing within five days of winning their bids. The V.I. GOP chose its delegates by caucus on March 10.
Among those selected during that caucus, and now disqualified by Canegata, were three of four candidates who were already in the midst of battles over their eligibility.
On March 4, Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes sent a letter to the V.I. Republican Party disqualifying the candidacies of John Yob, Erica Yob and Lindsey Eilon, who went on to win their bids, and Ethan Eilon, who did not.
All four individuals are veteran GOP operatives who recently moved from the mainland to St. John. John Yob is the author of "Chaos: The Outsider’s Guide to a Contested Republican Convention," which makes a case that what happens in the U.S. territories may make a huge difference during a contested national convention.
Fawkes alleged that after Yob was told at St. John’s Elections office that he would have to wait 90 days before registering to vote in the territory, he went to the St. Thomas office to try again, this time falsifying the date he and his wife moved to the territory. The Eilons registration was likewise said by Fawkes to be invalid based on duration of residency.
After their candidacy and voting eligibility was challenged, the Yobs and Eilons filed a motion requesting a temporary restraining order and injunction against Fawkes and that their voting rights be restored. They said the elections supervisor had "failed to correctly interpret Virgin Islands law.”
Both the restraining order and the injunction have been granted but on Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay said the court’s injunction would not prevent the plaintiffs from having their eligibility challenged on grounds other than the duration of their residency and there may be remaining issues.
J. Russell B. Pate, attorney for the contested delegates, said that nowhere in the more than 900 sections of the V.I. Code that addresses elections does it state individuals must reside in the territory for 90 days before registering to vote.
There is a requirement of 90 days of continued residency before registered voters can cast their ballots in a territorial election, Pate said, adding the law clearly defines elections in a way that would preclude a party caucus. And registering itself has no mandated wait time.
On this the court agreed.
Attorney Scot McChain, representing Fawkes, said “durational residency” is only one aspect of what the V.I. Code has to say on voting eligibility. He said there is evidence likely to be revealed in later hearings that may call into question the legitimacy of the delegates’ residency in the Virgin Islands for reasons other than when they moved here. Three of the plaintiffs, he said, remain registered to vote in stateside jurisdictions.
To make matters more complex, Valerie Stiles, another aspiring V.I. GOP delegate, filed a motion to intervene in the case Tuesday, which was granted by Mackay.
If Canegata’s disqualification of the initial batch of delegates holds, Stiles, who received enough caucus votes to serve as an alternate, will be among those who attend the national convention.
Stiles’s attorney Edward Barry urged MacKay not to decide the case strictly based on the statutory arguments made by Pate, which he called convoluted. He said a requirement of 90 days of continuous residency to participate in local politics is a “plain, common-sense” interpretation that is used throughout the nation.
“Given the context, the plaintiffs’ interpretation of the residency requirements just can’t make sense,” said Barry.
Barry referred to the delegates as “political pros” whose residency is a “sham.”
Yob maintains that he and his wife have made St. John their primary residence and enrolled their children in school there.
While the legal case to determine the contested delegates’ eligibility continues, Yob has already signaled via his social media accounts that he intends to fight Canegata’s move to disqualify them.
"The chairman is not a dictator and can not unilaterally break the USVI GOP rules to hand select his preferred delegate,” he wrote.
Yob said via his Twitter account that the five-day deadline for written acceptance cited by Canegata does not begin the date of the caucus, but instead on the date its results are certified. He said this has not occurred yet, which makes Canegata’s move to disqualify the delegates invalid.
Yob also posted a written response appearing to corroborate his argument from Territorial Republican Committee member James M. Oliver, who said he is a member of the party’s certification subcommittee.