About 3,400 signatures — most of them on Aug. 21, 2002 – St. Croix is surging ahead of the St. Thomas-St. John district in the collection of signatures in support of the Citizens for Legislative Reform initiative calling for numbered seats in the Legislature.
More than 2,400 signatures have been collected on St. Croix, compared with fewer than 1,000 for St. Thomas and St. John together, Hugh Dalton, publicity director for the initiative, said on Wednesday.
The signature drive has thus missed its self-imposed target of 6,000 signatures by Aug. 15, but advocates say they are not deterred.
"This is a challenge to St. Thomas," Dalton, who owns a public relations firm in Frederiksted, said. He vowed to travel to St. Thomas himself at the end of August to solicit signatures needed for the effort to move forward, and he said he will have 3,000 St. Croix signatures in hand at that time.
One reason for the lower level of support on St. Thomas is that "we haven't had the manpower on St. Thomas that we've had on St. Croix," he said.
Dalton also noted that all is not lost if the initiative doesn't get on the 2002 ballot, which was initially the group's goal. "We have six months after May 23 to submit the signatures to the elections office," and there are a couple other options, he said.
The group has been waging an active publicity campaign with radio spots called "Did You Know" that feature local political personalities answering questions about voting and voters' rights. (See "Push is on for numbered-seats petition signers".)
Once the signed petitions are turned in to the Office of the Supervisor of Elections, it is expected to take the office staff 15 working days, or about three weeks, to verify their authenticity. If a sufficient number pass muster, the initiative will then go to the Legislature, which has 30 days to accept it, in which case it then becomes law; or to reject it, in which case it will then be put before the electorate for a vote. The Legislature has the option of submitting a version of its own to go on the ballot along with the initiative.
Dalton is eyeing other options with enthusiasm and a little creativity. "There's going to be a runoff election," he said, voicing prevailing public opinion. "So, if we had enough signatures by that time, we possibly could get it on that ballot then."
Another possibility: "We know several senators back the initiative, although not all of them are committing to it before the election. It's a political strategy right now; we can't really push them. We will get enough signatures in the next 30 to 45 days to at least go before the 'lame duck' Senate before the end of the year. All we need is eight votes, and it could become law."
Among individuals seeking public office in November, the committee has cited support from Delegate Donna M. Christensen; gubernatorial candidates Michael Bornn, Cora Christian and Gov. Charles Turnbull; lieutenant governor candidate Vargrave Richards; and senatorial candidates Craig Barshinger, Elroi Baumann, Sen. Lorraine Berry, Sen. Douglas E. Canton Jr., Sen. Roosevelt David, Sen. Emmett Hansen II and Luther Renee.
The initiative officially came into existence after 1 percent of the registered voters in both districts signed a petition earlier this year asking for numbered seats. With such a system, incumbents would run on their records, and the challengers for a particular seat would seek to persuade voters that they could do a better job than the individual who has occupied it for the last two years.
Proponents say this would do away with the free-for-all popularity contest nature of the current method of election, in which all candidates in a district run against one another, and the top seven vote getters win. With designated seats, each senator's spending and attendance records would come into play — something that some senators do not wish advertised, advocates say.
Unlike the referendum to reduce the number of seats in the Senate that was approved overwhelmingly by voters on the 2000 ballot but later was rejected by the Senate, an initiative cannot be ignored by the lawmakers.
On St. Thomas, petitions for collecting signatures are available at the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce offices, from Bornn's campaign headquarters, and from WGOD radio personality Wingrove Fenton, who can be reached at 774-4498.
On St. Croix, they can be obtained from Dalton and Associates in Frederiksted, the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce offices in the Orange Grove Shopping Center, Luncheria, Quality Electric, and Bornn's campaign headquarters in Christiansted.
On St. John, they can be picked up at Connections or obtained by calling Barshinger at 693-5000 or e-mailing him at C. Barshinger.
To print out copies of the petition from the Source, "Initiative petition".
Signed copies should be sent to the Citizens for Legislative Reform. The mailing address is provided on the petition.
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