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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 13, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsRepublicans Surprised By Primary Election Pitfall

Republicans Surprised By Primary Election Pitfall

Republican leaders said Wednesday they had no idea their successful lawsuit meant 2024 primary elections were in limbo. (Screenshot of District Court Opinion)

Virgin Islands Republican leadership said Wednesday it was taken by surprise when the Supervisor of Elections announced a normal primary election was not possible because of a lawsuit filed by the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands leadership.

John Yob, chairman of the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands, said Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes’ testimony at the Legislature Monday was the first he’d heard that the District Court ruling made a primary election impossible without a new, curative law.

Republicans had sued in August 2022 to get government interference out of their internal party decisions, claiming it violated their First Amendment rights. They won. Jan. 10, District Court Chief Judge Robert Molloy ruled eight provisions of the Virgin Islands Code covering elections were unconstitutional.

Yob said the political party had been unaware of the downstream effects of their legal action for the 124 days between Molloy’s ruling and Fawkes’ appearance at the Senate.

Tuesday, Republicans said they planned to hold their own, privately-run primary but were yet undecided on the process. How candidates would register, how and where voting would take place, and how votes would be counted, were all open questions, Yob said.

“Unfortunately we were not aware of the position of the Board of Elections until 48 hours ago so we are still making determinations regarding the specifics of the system the party will use to nominate candidates,” Yob wrote by text message.

Yob did not say if the party had existing bylaws for such an arrangement nor if he’d been in touch with national party leadership, but said a special meeting of the Republican State Committee was being called to authorize the primary process.

He wrote to Fawkes and Board of Elections Chairperson Alecia Wells Tuesday asking they confirm the chosen candidates would be on the general election ballot and be the only ones listed as Republican.

Yob set a 5 p.m. Friday deadline for Fawkes and Wells to reply. But as of late Tuesday, neither had seen Yob’s email. The message to Wells had been sent to an incorrect address. After being alerted by the Source, Fawkes wrote at 10:23 p.m. to say she’d found the message in her junk mail folder.

As of April, there were 994 registered Republicans active in the U.S. Virgin Islands, 615 on St. Croix, 345 on St. Thomas, and 34 on St. John, according to Election System of the Virgin Islands. That’s less than the 20,149 registered Democrats and 7,918 voters who did not affiliate with a party but more than the 771 people who listed their party as the Independent Citizens Movement.

Some senators and Elections officials said removing public funds from intra-party elections was a good thing, despite the messy timing. Fawkes estimated each primary election cost about $250,000.

Elections Board member Harriet A. Mercer told Source readers Tuesday that the Legislature and attorney general’s office had been slow-footed in addressing problems in old elections laws. Elections offices were bound by the law while legislators made laws and the attorney general interpreted and enforced laws.

“This is not rocket science,” Mercer wrote. “Let every party pay for its own primary — as long should have been the case — because the law never said that the people in general should be doing so.”

In the meantime, the Elections office was still taking nominations for various positions. Fawkes had said in her testimony Monday — urging action by lawmakers — that Elections representatives were continuing as if the primary were like any other.

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