Oct. 30, 2002 – Voters on election day will have an option outside of the polling place to let their political will be known. They'll be invited to sign a green petition endorsing an election reform initiative calling for numbered seats in the Legislature.
Hugh Dalton, spokesman for Citizens for Legislative Reform, the group sponsoring the initiative, said on Wednesday that its members will be circulating the petition outside polling places on all three islands.
Last spring, when the group formally began its quest to bring about the change through the grassroots initiative process, it hoped to get the issue on the fall general election ballot, or, failing that, the gubernatorial runoff ballot two weeks later, should there be one.
Last month, Dalton said at a Rotary Club luncheon on St. Thomas that he was still hoping to collect enough signatures — 3,000 in each district — to get it on the ballot. (See the St. Thomas Source story "Initiative needs more St. Thomas signatures".) But that hasn't happened. Still, it doesn't mean the effort is dead.
The initiative officially came into existence after 1 percent of the registered voters in both districts signed a petition last spring asking for numbered seats. The initiative process from there:
– The Boards of Elections verified the signatures and found a sufficient number valid.
– A "titling board" consisting of Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr., Attorney General Iver Stridiron and Legislative Counsel Yvonne Tharpes met on May 20 to draft the wording of the initiative. It calls for seven numbered Senate seats in each district, with a 15th senator, who must reside on St. John, continuing to be elected at large territorywide as is now the case.
– A few weeks after that, Abramson officially transmitted the go-ahead to the group — he says he thinks it was in early June. From then, the organizers have 180 days, or approximately until early December, to collect the signatures of either10 percent of the registered voters in each district or else 41 percent of all registered voters across the territory on the petition calling for the change to numbered seats. These signatures also must be verified by the Boards of Elections.
– If the group is successful in collecting the required numbers of signatures, the petition then will go to the Legislature, which has 30 days to act on the initiative. If it votes yes, numbered seats become law. If it votes no — which is all but certain — the initiative goes to a public vote. If that happens, a total of 50 percent plus one of the territory's registered voters must give their approval in order for it to become law.
The group still needs 1,500 hundred signatures in the St. Thomas-St. John district, Dalton said. He said 3,000 signatures have been collected on St. Croix, but the group wants to get 10 percent more than that as a cushion for any that are not acceptable, such as persons who are not registered voters or who sign the petition more than once.
Dalton said the group is currently comparing all signatures with the registered voter lists. "We are actually going through them ourselves," he said, "to be sure of an accurate count."
He said he is undeterred by not getting the initiative on the Nov. 5 ballot or the Nov. 19 runoff, should it occur. He even sees a possibility that a lame duck Legislature could approve it after the election. Several senators have publicly endorsed the measure.
According to Abramson, if the group doesn't get the required numbers of signatures by the deadline, "they will have to start all over again." There is no provision for extending the 180-day period, he said. "For practical purposes, I think their time for this time has run out," he said on Wednesday.
However, Abramson has previously said that a special election could be called for a vote on the issue. If not, the next opportunity will be the general election of 2004.
Among candidates seeking election on Nov. 5, the committee has cited support from Delegate Donna M. Christensen; gubernatorial candidates Michael Bornn, Cora Christian and Gov. Charles W. 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.
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