The St. Croix Board of Elections members remained divided about their role and at least two refused to participate in the August primary, but designated several polling sites after learning about ADA compliance at their meeting on Wednesday.
The primary election is Aug. 6 and most board members volunteered to oversee the process at specific polling stations, except Board Chairwoman Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal and Roland Moolenaar who said they will wait for an interpretation of the law by the V.I. Legislature and/or the V.I. attorney general.
In the meantime, Belardo de O’Neal and Moolenaar will not participate in the primary, they said.
“No primary unless the Legislature gives us money,” Belardo de O’Neal said.
Moolenaar said, as a law enforcement official, he plans to follow the letter of the law and isn’t sure what that is. He made a motion for the board to send a letter to the attorney general asking for an interpretation of Title 18, Chapter 7, Section 151-D, which talks about elections officials and clerks running a primary election.
Moolenaar’s motion was approved.
In the past, the boards of elections have managed the primary and general elections on all three islands. The responsibility of the boards during primary elections has been questioned for years, due to conflicting sections within the Title 18 of the V.I. Code.
In recent months, the St. Croix board has interpreted the law and taken the stance that the V.I. Code requires them only to certify the results.
Political parties are responsible for the voting process, the St. Croix Board of Elections says.
Last month, the Joint Elections Board voted to manage the Aug. 6 primary election, but voting for party officers would be separate.
Primary voters will cast their ballots at three or four locations on St. Croix.
The board discussed, but didn’t vote, to use D.C. Canegata Community Center, St. Croix Educational Complex, Alexander Henderson Elementary School and Ricardo Richards Elementary School.
Over the last few months, the board toured the schools used as previous voting places with representatives from the Education Department and Jamila Russell, the V.I. ADA coordinator.
There were concerns about bathrooms with wheelchair access, suitable parking and wheelchair ramps, and the board was prepared to close polling sites at several locations. Board member Lisa Harris-Moorhead pointed out the federal government could shut down the election if voters were sent to noncompliant sites.
“If we don’t have compliant precincts, the federal government can shut us down. That’s a fact,” member Raymond Williams agreed.
On Wednesday, Russell pointed out that while schools may not be in federal ADA compliance, they are on a repair schedule. She told the board to worry only about accessibility to bathrooms if there are poll workers with disabilities.
Russell clarified the ADA law and the board concluded that workers with disabilities would not be stationed at locations that are not ADA compliant: the Florence Williams Public Library, Ricardo Richards, Eulalie Rivera, Claude Markoe and Pearl Larsen Elementary Schools.
Juanita Gardine Elementary is almost ADA compliant with a ramp and bathroom facilities, but the ramp is too steep and grab bars are needed in the bathrooms. Instead of the usual voting areas, the cafeteria, library and music rooms will be used for voting this year.
Several members complained that bathrooms in use by children at Markoe Elementary School were unacceptably dirty and had missing doors.
Board member Adelbert Bryan suggested a lawsuit against the Department of Education.
In the end, the board directed Belardo de O’Neal to send a letter to the governor about the work that is needed at the schools. Copies will be sent to the U.S. and V.I. Departments of Justice, the ADA and the Department of Education.
Williams suggested the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections do the same thing.
The St. Croix board went into executive session with Joseph Ponteen, deputy attorney general. After the session, Ponteen reported the Attorney General’s Office investigated the strategies and procedures used by the previous attorney general regarding lost ballots in the 2012 election.
Ponteen said the St. Croix board “followed the laws that were in place.”
Attending the meeting were board members Belardo de O’Neal, Moolenaar, Harris-Moorhead, Williams, Bryan, Barbara Jackson McIntosh and Glenn Webster.