July 06, 2006 – Less than half of the available polling sites in the St. Thomas-St. John district will be open during the upcoming primary election, according to V.I. Elections officials. However, all 15 sites will be open in the St. Croix district.
When contacted Thursday, Lawrence Boschulte, chairman of the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections, said the decision to limit the number of polling sites to six out of the available 14 was made last week during a board meeting on St. John. "Some board members were saying that we should open all the sites, while others wanted only a few open," he said. "So we compromised on six – five in St. Thomas and one in St. John."
Boschulte said all board members were in favor of the decision, except for Arturo Watlington Jr. and George Blackhall, who were both absent during last week's meeting. The decision was also announced at a recent meeting of the St. Croix District Board of Elections.
While one election official said he was "surprised" about the decision, Boschulte said that he doesn't expect more than 10,000 registered voters to turn out for the primary.
Boschulte also said that as little as two or three sites could accommodate 10,000 voters. "Last election year, we had only two sites open on St. Thomas," he said. "And while we received a lot of negative publicity about that, we were still able to efficiently serve the community. And while I agree that all the sites should be open during the general election, we don't need all of them to be open during the primary."
He added that in the last six years, the number of registered voters at primary elections "never surpassed" 10,000. "In 2004, for example, we only had about 7,000 voters. So the question here is do we open all the polls and spend all our money, or do we become more fiscally responsible and say that we can handle the number of voters with six sites?"
Boschulte said that both districts share a $210,000 budget , to cover expenses in the general election and primary.
He added that candidates should "step up to the plate" and provide transportation for those voters who feel "disenfranchised" by the decision to limit the polling sites. "I'm hurt that we're already receiving complaints that the voters are going to be so impacted by this," he said. "But since the candidates have provided transportation for their constituents in past elections, they should come to the forefront and do the same thing during the primary."
While each individual district board does have the statutory authority to determine how many sites will be open, this year's election may be "more important than normal," John Abramson Jr., territorial supervisor of elections, said Thursday.
"We have three candidates in the Democratic primary running for governor," Abramson explained. "That means we're going to be getting more participants out there than normal, so the primary should be very important. And we also have no idea how many senators we have running yet."
Abramson added that he thought the decision to open all the polls in both districts was unanimously agreed upon at a recent meeting of the Joint Board of Elections. "While the Joint Board didn't vote on the issue, I thought there was a general consensus," he said. "And I don't know if they [St. Thomas-St. John elections board] have a strategy about what they're going to do, or even if they plan on amending this decision."
On St. Thomas, polls will be open at Ivanna Eudora Kean and Charlotte Amalie high schools, Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and Joseph Gomez and Joseph Sibilly elementary schools.
On St. John, polls will be open in Cruz Bay.
The primary election is Sept. 9.
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