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Senate Addressing Elections Board Law For April 8 Special Election

The V.I. Legislature is meeting in a special session Tuesday to change a recent law to clear up problems that could get in the way of a planned special election to fill a St. Thomas/St. John seat in the Legislature, in the wake of candidate Kevin Rodriquez being ruled ineligible to run.

Rodriquez came in sixth in November’s election to fill seven St. Thomas/St.John legislative seats and the St. Thomas/St. John Board of Elections certified his candidacy and the final vote.

But in December, the eighth-place candidate, Janelle Sarauw, joined by a campaign worker, sued in V.I. Superior Court to stop Rodriquez from being seated, arguing that Rodriquez had asserted in court documents filed in 2016 that he was a bona fide resident of Tennessee and therefore could not meet the three-year V.I. residency requirement set by V.I. law.

The V.I. Supreme Court determined that in his bankruptcy petition, Rodriquez swore under penalty of perjury that he lived in Tennessee and had not lived in another state anytime during the preceding three years. It applied the doctrine of “judicial estoppel,” saying that Rodriquez’s claim under oath in one court prevented him from claiming the opposite in another court.

Earlier in February, U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Gomez dismissed both Rodriquez’s suit seeking to have the Legislature determine his eligibility and the suit filed by electoral rival Janelle Sarauw seeking to force the St. Thomas/St. John Board of Elections to decertify the election and disqualify Rodriquez.

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The ruling left in place the V.I. Supreme Court opinion holding Rodriquez does not meet the V.I. residency requirement and paves the way for a special election. It also found a recently enacted law aimed at consolidating the territory’s elections boards into a single entity is written in a problematic way, leaving it unclear if the St. Thomas/St. John election board, joint boards of election or a unified board would in fact be empowered to carry out a special election.

Judge Curtis Gomez concluded that changing the law “involves policy considerations that are appropriately left to the first branch of government,” which is the Legislature.

The St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections has also been discussing for months the impact of the recently enacted Act 7892, which establishes a single elections board of 14 members. Since the law was passed, board members have questioned when it goes into effect, how it impacts members who were just elected and, most recently, whether it has actually dissolved both district boards until the new, single board is established.

The Legislature is meeting Tuesday to address the problems in the law in order to meet the April 8 deadline for a special election to fill the vacant seat.

Two bills are being considered; one amends the law and the other appropriates $140,000 to fund the special election.

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