79.6 F
Cruz Bay
Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Technology is about to enter the Virgin Islands legislative process big time, and political veterans are wondering how it will change the dynamics of the process.
The Legislature already has installed an electronic voting system; senators and staff are to receive training on its use Dec. 18. By the beginning of January, a teleconferencing system also should be up and running, linking St. Croix and St. Thomas.
The voting system was purchased from Millenium Technology Inc. at a cost of approximately $50,000, according to Maureen Rabsatt-Cullar, executive director of the Legislature. The teleconferencing project, known as VIPAN, "is in partnership with ICC" (Innovative Communication Corp.) and "the cost is totally funded by ICC."
The MTI system can be used during committee hearings and for sessions. Not only will it record votes, it will record a senator's request to speak during debate. Rather than raising his hand or saying "Madame Chair," a senator will push a button on his desk.
Rabsatt-Cullar said the system will record an entry to the millisecond. And it displays it on a television screen.
"It cuts down on the discretion of the chair, totally," she said.
The system also allows Internet voting, so senators can vote from their offices, she said.
Once the teleconferencing is in place, a district senator from one island can attend a committee meeting on the other without traveling.
"If used properly, it can change and lessen the costs of the legislative process," said Sen. Gregory Bennerson.
"It will save travel and lack of quorum costs," said Sen. Lorraine Berry, who had attempted to develop a teleconferencing system when she was Senate president two terms ago. Chairmen will not have to cancel meetings because colleagues could not or would not travel to attend.
Bennerson said he also believes that "the voting machines will lessen the arguments" about who asked to speak first.
Sen. David Jones agreed "it should make the work on the floor more efficient and lessen the subjectivity," but he said both Robert's Rules of Order and Mason's Rules dictate that the chairman of a meeting or session still has the final say. "You cannot speak before you're recognized by the chair," he said.
Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen doesn't like the change. It may be fine for Congress where hundreds of votes must be recorded, but in the V.I., with no more than 15 senators at any given time, "I didn't see the need for it," Hansen said.
In fact, she said, "I think it'll be a delay in the public's right to know." People listening to a session on their car radios or on the radio at work won't be able to see the vote displayed on the screen.
They also won't be able to hear the emotion in a senator's voice as he or she casts that vote. However, Rabsatt-Cullar said vote totals still will be announced by a staff member.
Several senators said they don't believe the process will be mechanized completely.
"You still need to have face-to-face discussions," said Jones. "You still need to have interaction."
"You need to lobby," said Hansen. "In reality I think senators will still continue to travel" because the process "takes a lot of the personal touch."
Berry said she doesn't expect a machine to eliminate the personal touch—or rancor.
"We will still have our conflicts because of the personalities," she said. "Professionalism will be exhibited based on the individual," not the system.
She and Sen. Roosevelt David both questioned whether a new majority, led by some of the Legislature's veteran firebrands, will implement the system.
"Not because you have a system in are you going to use it," Berry said.
David said he believes the system could be effective and that he hopes the new majority will not repeal it.
"Some people think they will," David said. "Some believe that it would not suit their style."

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.