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Tiny Turnout Fails to Repair Republican Rift – Elections Officials May Seek Legal Guidance

Gordon Ackley was chosen as chairman of the V.I. Republican Party at a caucus run by the Republican National Committee. (Source file photo)

Tuesday’s Republican Party Caucus doesn’t appear to be the last word on the internal rift that has undermined the small organization for several years and bedeviled territorial Elections officials.

With Gordon Ackley running unopposed for chairman of the Virgin Islands GOP, and his rival John Canegata essentially boycotting the process, the outcome for the top office was inevitable. The Republican National Committee, which called for and oversaw the caucus, formally announced the winning candidates late Wednesday.

Topping the slate were Ackley as chairman, Antoinette Gumbs-Hecht as national committeewoman, and Jevon O. A. Williams as national committeeman.

“It was a decisive victory,” Ackley told the Source Thursday.

A call to Canegata went unanswered. He didn’t run for office in the caucus, but supporters say he is ready to sue over the caucus process.

April Newland, who ran unsuccessfully for national committeewoman and who supports Canegata, said, “He’s going to launch a lawsuit, no doubt about it.”

She said she doesn’t plan to join in funding the suit, “but I definitely can see the merit of it … There were some irregularities.”

Among those, she said, was that Ackley’s slate was printed all together on the front of the ballot while her name and other candidates not running on the slate were printed on the back. She also questioned the RNC’s decision to limit the caucus solely to in-person voting, disallowing any sort of proxy, or mail-in balloting.

John Clendinen, who ran for national committeeman, also protested the process. In a letter to the RNC he criticized it for allowing a slate of candidates and suggested the caucus was more of “a continued senseless battle between lawyers and competing power factions” rather than a way for Republican voters to express their wishes.

Besides the threat of a lawsuit, there is a technicality that could throw the outcome of the caucus in question.

The Board of Elections has recognized Canegata as the local party chairman since 2020, although Ackley and the RNC disputed Canegata’s legitimacy.

At a V.I. party meeting in January, Canegata agreed to hold the caucus, but he never provided a plan for the selection process, despite being reminded to do so by Raymond Williams, chairman of the Board of Elections, who cited V.I. law saying the Election System of the Virgin Islands must approve the process.

The RNC eventually sent a plan directly to the Elections Office. Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes told the Source that the office received it on March 22, that is, a week before the scheduled caucus date. She said her office never received a plan from Canegata.

“The Board is not a full-time body,” she said. They haven’t met since receiving the plan from the RNC and consequently it was not approved prior to the caucus.

So, do the caucus results stand, or not?

“That’s a legal question,” Williams said. “I can’t answer that.”

He said he’ll probably recommend that the Board ask for advice from the V.I. attorney general.

“We’re going to have to because this is a legal question,” he said.

He expressed frustration at being thrust into the middle of a party dispute that seems irreconcilable.

“They’re trying to get the Election System to resolve it,” he said. “It’s not our job.”

It’s unclear just how much interest there is in the outcome.

Responding to questions from the Source, an RNC spokesman said a total of 89 people voted at the caucus: 43 on St. Croix, 43 on St. Thomas and three on St. John.

That works out to a voter turnout of just under 4.5 percent. There are 1,986 registered Republicans in the Virgin Islands.

Historically, Republicans have represented a small minority of Virgin Islands voters. According to the latest count posted on the Elections website, there are a total of 54,097 voters in the territory.

“That’s small,” Ackley said of Tuesday’s turnout, “but it’s more than the previous election.”

The release from the national GOP quotes RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel welcoming Ackley, Williams and Gumbs-Hecht. Besides the top three posts, those elected Tuesday, according to the RNC are:

St. Thomas/St. John District State Committee Members: Bob Ayars, Alexandra Bonthron, Michael L. Charles, Lorie Graham, Todd D. Hecht, Randolph A. Maynard, Harriet A. Mercer, Floyd L. Petersen, Fred Vialet, Jr., and Mark Zion.

St. Croix District State Committee Members: Dudley A. Fabio, Gideon F. Hurtault, Lawrence E. James, Jr., Alexander A. Moorhead IV, Michael Nathaniel, Henderson W. Payne, Maria D. Pickard, Girad W. Ryan, Aidza Stapleton and Sheena D. Williams.

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