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1,000-FOOT RULE ON ELECTIONEERING CHALLENGED

Nov. 1, 2002 – A top official of the V.I. Democratic Party is asking the federal government to stop the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections from imposing a 1,000-foot barrier between voters and campaigners on Tuesday.
Elmo Adams Jr., the party's district chair, filed a complaint late Friday afternoon in District Court on St. Thomas asking for a temporary restraining order. He was joined by Hiram Rasool Abiff and Cheryl Chance in the action that is directed against Alecia M. Wells, chair of the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections, and Supervisor of Elections John Abramson Jr.
A new regulation set by the district board requires those engaged in electioneering to stay at least 1,000 feet away from polling places on election day. The Democrats' complaint contends that it violates constitutional guarantees of free speech, is inconsistent with the 25-foot displacement set by the St. Croix Board of Elections for its district, and is in violation of the V.I. Code because it was not "published" as required by law.
Adams, a lawyer, said he expects the court will put the complaint on a fast track and that he hopes the matter can be taken before a judge by Monday. "Considering the election is Tuesday … I'm hoping the judge will nullify the board's decision. I think the case law is on our side," he said Friday.
It is an electioneering tradition in the territory for political candidates' supporters to post themselves strategically near the entrances to polling places and shout encouragement to voters as they make their way to the ballot booth. The practice often creates a raucous atmosphere which some residents find objectionable.
In January, the 24th Legislature overrode a Government House veto to pass a law that outlawed campaigning after 2 a.m. the day of an election. That, too, prompted a District Court challenge — also brought by Abiff, on behalf of himself, two family members and the people of the Virgin Islands. In August, the court overturned the law as unconstitutional because it violated guarantees of free speech, free assembly and a free press. (See "Electioneering ban ruled unconstitutional".)
Meanwhile, last summer, the Joint Boards of Election — consisting of the two district boards — decided to issue its own rules on electioneering, which could be enforced by police. The decision was to impose the 1,000-foot barrier in both districts, and this was in place for the Sept. 14 primary election. Subsequently, however, the St. Croix board decided to go back to the previous minimum of 25 feet.
Abramson, aware of the Democrats' plan to seek a temporary restraining order that would get around the 1000-foot restriction on election day, commented on Thursday, "Whatever they must do, they must do."
Wells could not be reached on Friday for comment on the matter.

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