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Elections Board Fields Challenges About Machine Irregularities

Elections members spent hours Thursday dealing with challenges filed by or against candidates running in the recent primary election.

With the counting of outstanding ballots complete in both districts, V.I. Joint Board of Elections members convened Thursday to resolve several challenges filed by or against candidates running in the August Democratic primary.

Nearly two hours was spent at the beginning of the meeting dealing with a recount petition filed by St. Croix Senate candidate Nemmy Jackson-Williams, whose concerns centered on irregularities experienced by voters using machines either during the early voting process or on primary election day.

Specifically, two witnesses called by Jackson-Williams and her campaign manager Dale Brown said the voting machines they used didn’t accept their ballots the first time around, and once the ballots were accepted, the screens on the machines didn’t show the voters who they actually voted for.

In the end, the board denied the recount petition, citing human error and a lack of education surrounding the voting process, particularly the concept of “undervoting,” in which the voter doesn’t select the minimum number of candidates required in a given race. In the case of witness Violet Rogers, poll watchers explained that Rogers only selected three candidates in the St. Croix Senate race instead of seven, in which case she would not have been shown who she voted for, but rather who she didn’t vote for and given the option to select from the remaining candidates.

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Rogers, however, said there was a period where the machine didn’t inform her that she had undervoted, but rather kicked her ballot back out twice.

When asked, the poll watcher said she was “satisfied” that Rogers did have the opportunity to cast her ballot. Asked further if she had any concerns about Rogers’ experience, the poll watcher said no, that Rogers may not have “understood fully” the process.

Some board members made similar statements.

“Do not cast something you’re not comfortable with,” St. Thomas board member Lydia Hendricks advised Rogers. “The machine would have given you back the same paper, we would have voided it and given you a different ballot. It is very unfortunate that something like that happened, but you had the control by not casting that ballot.”

St. Croix resident Larry Miller also described his early voting experience as irregular.

“All I know is when I inserted the ballot into the machine, it kicked it back out,” Miller said, adding that the poll worker he approached about the problem said “she didn’t know what was going on.”

However, Miller said the ballot was accepted by the machine a second time.

“Simply what I’m saying if this machine is so accurate, the first time you put that ballot into the machine it’s supposed to take it,” Miller contended.

In response, Hendricks said having the machines not accept the ballot on the first go-around “happens all the time.”

“Sometimes you have to turn it in many different positions for the ballot to be accepted, but once it has, you see the thank you on the screen and the ballot drops into the bin, so you know it went through. Thank you so much for your vote,” she said.

The poll worker identified by Miller also testified at the meeting that no one was informed by Miller of any concerns, nor was she aware of any other voter that had the same experience. She also said that any other voters who didn’t “understand the new machine” were taken through the entire process by the poll workers, and were able to complete the process.

“A lot, lot more,” was her response when asked by Elections Board chair Arturo Watlington, Jr. if voters need more education on how to use the machines.

In response, Williams-Jackson’s camp said the lack of education about how to use the machines “casts doubt” for the voter about the accuracy of the machines and the integrity of the voting process.

According to the unofficial results, Jackson-Williams rounded out the election in ninth place in the St. Croix Senate race, with 1,374 votes behind Senator Neville James, who was in eighth place with 1,461 votes.

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