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Elections Board Asks for Appeal of Ruling Voiding Sections of V.I. Election Law

Talks leading to a request to appeal a District Court ruling against the Board of Elections took place in a closed-door executive session on March 26. (Source file photo)

Officials at the Board of Elections are asking the Justice Department to challenge a recent ruling by the District Court.  In that ruling, a federal judge declared some local election laws unconstitutional.

The January ruling from Chief District Judge Robert Molloy voided eight provisions of the Virgin Islands Code, Title 18. Those sections were challenged by lawyers representing the Republican National Committee and members of the Republican Party of the Virgin Islands.

Title 18 governs the way elections are carried out in the territory.

Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes, head of the Election Systems of the Virgin Islands, and the Virgin Islands Board of Elections were the named defendants in the case.

In the opinion issued prior to his judgment, Molloy cited claims by Republicans that portions of  Title 18 violated their First Amendment right to free association. “Plaintiffs claim that the said statutes impermissibly infringe their right to association by allowing Defendants control of matters concerning internal party operations,” the judge said.

In the judgment that followed, Judge Molloy declared Title 18, Sections 232, 303 (a) – (c ); a portion of Section 304, Section 305, 306 (a), 307, and 342 unconstitutional. 

Concerns expressed by elections board members were aired during a closed-door executive session on March 26, followed by a vote taken afterward. The board approved a motion to ask Attorney General Ian Clement to challenge Molloy’s ruling.

To do so, Clement would bring the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Prior to the vote, the board was cautioned by member Lisa Harris-Moorhead to consult with Justice first. Harris-Moorhead said it would be better to ask whether the board should proceed with an appeal.

“… I think they should have some say in whether they expend their resources on something and whether or not they think it’s viable,” Harris-Moorhead said.

Former board chairman Raymond Williams disagreed. He said it would be better to ask Clement to proceed, anticipating that the attorney general would respond by approaching the board for a discussion.

As of April 4, a source at Justice said they did not know if the board’s request had reached Justice or if Clement had seen a letter requesting further action on the January ruling.

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