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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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There Are Too Few Polling Places

Dear Source:
The St. Thomas/St. John Board of Elections has decided to open only six polling places for the September 9, 2006 Primary Election. Meanwhile, the St. Croix Board of Elections, recognizing the number of critical races in this Primary Election, which are sure to attract a greater than normal number of voters, has wisely decided to open fourteen polling places. Under the V.I. Code, the Board is apparently free to set the number of polling places without regard for the impact on the voting public. It was not always this way.
The relevant section of the V.I. Code is 18 V.I.C. Section 194(a). Prior to July 10, 1998, that code section read, in pertinent part: "The board of elections in each election district shall select and fix as many polling places for each polling district under its jurisdiction, herein or hereafter established as it may deem necessary. No more than 800 electors shall be allotted to any one polling place." What this meant, was that the Board was required to open enough polling places so that no more than 800 voters would be forced to squeeze into any one polling place. With just six polling places approved for the 2006 Primary, the Board is allowing for only 4,800 voters to comfortably vote in this Primary Election.
In the 2004 General Election, 12,354 voters voted for the position of Delegate to Congress from the St. Thomas/St. John voting district. In the 2004 General Election, 12,279 voters voted for the position of At Large Senator from the St. Thomas/St. John voting district. By this measure, it is clear that the Board is providing less than half and close to a third of the polling places that would be required for the expected voter turnout.
Unfortunately, on July 10, 1998, 18 V.I.C. Section 194(a) was amended to delete that second sentence in its entirety so that there is now no requirement for the Board to consider the number of voters they will be forcing to squeeze into the polling places. I suspect that this may have been originally motivated by a desire to avoid increasing the existing total number of polling places in the General Election. I further suspect that the Board never told the Legislature that they intended to use this amendment to squeeze voters into a much smaller number of polling places at a crowded Primary Election.
Whatever the legislative intent, as the law stands today, the Board is apparently free to open only one polling place for the entire voting district both for the Primary Election and the General Election if it so chooses. Clearly, this was not the Legislature's intent in making this amendment and clearly this law needs to be amended to return a greater degree of direction for the Board to follow.
However, no such legislative change can cure this Board's decision for the 2006 Primary Election as the deadline for such a legislative change for the 2006 election has long passed. Accordingly, the voting public is completely dependent upon the Board itself recognizing its error and increasing the number of polling places accordingly. Should the Board fail to do so, litigation is sure to follow the elections.
Furthermore, should the current St. Thomas/St. John Board of Elections fail to increase the number of polling places appropriately, I trust that the voting public will keep this fact in mind in the voting booth when selecting their next Board of Elections for the St. Thomas/St. John voting district.
Mark D. Hodge
St. Thomas

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