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Ballot Changes as Elections Officials Prepare for Runoff

Nov. 13, 2006 — With the absentee and provisional ballot numbers still unofficial, Elections officials are preparing for a runoff between gubernatorial candidates John deJongh and Kenneth Mapp.
Over the past few days, both district boards of elections have already tallied 933 walk-in absentee ballots, 472 mail-in absentee ballots and 223 provisional ballots. Since mail-in ballots are still coming in, however, officials say that they have to wait until 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 17, before they can crunch final numbers.
As of Monday, however, deJongh votes total 1015 (a combination of both walk-in and mail-in absentee ballots, along with provisional ballots), while Mapp has pulled in a total of 330 absentee and provisional votes in both districts. The team of Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Cora Christian has a total of 283 absentee and provisional votes.
Since board members have said they "will not speculate on the outcome" of the election until all the votes have been counted, the Elections system is still getting into gear for a potential runoff, which would be held Nov. 21.
In a recent letter to Elections Supervisor John Abramson, District Board Chair Alecia Wells said a majority of nine board members in both districts have agreed on a new ballot design for the runoff, which places the symbol of the Democratic Party next to deJongh's name.
According to St. Thomas-St. John District board members, the original ballot had the symbol pictured above the names of the two candidates, along with a small box that voters "could check off" to show that they will be voting for candidates within the Democratic Party.
Board members said that the new format is "less confusing," and will reduce the number of "spoiled ballots" coming in during the runoff. St. Thomas-St. John District Board Chair Lawrence Boschulte explained Monday that when voters check the box and vote for non-Democratic candidates, then the vote is considered spoiled and therefore does not count.
In a letter dated Nov. 10, Abramson indicated that he did not approve of the new format, and questioned whether a vote to redesign the ballot was conducted during a "formal meeting."
During a brief interview Monday evening, St. Thomas-St. John District Board member Arturo Watlington Jr. said that the Joint Board of Elections has "never before" needed to have a formal meeting to approve a ballot. The decision was made via telephone with St. Croix board members, he said, and a letter was subsequently sent to Abramson, authorizing the printing of the new ballots.
The original ballot format put the "non-Democratic" candidate at a "disadvantage," Watlington said.
"The V.I. Code stipulates that party symbols appear on the ballot," he said. "When the ballot is placed at the top, it indicates to the voter that they have a list of candidates to choose from. During a runoff, there are only two candidates. So, if a voter checks the box and then votes for Mapp, then the vote is spoiled and doesn't count. If the symbol is placed next to the candidate's name, then the voter knows who they're voting for and what party they're voting for."
Attempts to contact Wells Monday were unsuccessful. Both she and Raymond Williams, a member of the St. Croix District Board of Elections, are off island.
A news release sent Monday said that both boards will test and certify voting machines on Nov. 15-16 at 10 a.m.
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