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Monday, January 30, 2023

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Election Reform-A Simple Change?

Dear Source:

Once again Mr. Estemac has brought up not only a flaw in the election process but a burdensome requirement in that the election law for the Governor and Lieutenant Governor requires a majority vote of all the electorate voting. This flaw is costly to the Virgin Islands and could be rectified easily by simply changing the law. But should we?
Below is a portion of the actual law, which is a subsection of the Organic Act relating to the duties and qualifications of the Governor.
The executive power of the Virgin Islands shall be vested in an executive officer whose official title shall be the "Governor of the Virgin Islands." The Governor of the Virgin Islands, together with the Lieutenant Governor, shall be elected by a majority of the votes cast by the people who are qualified to vote for the members of the legislature of the Virgin Islands. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor shall be chosen jointly, by the casting by each voter of a single vote applicable to both officers. If no candidates receive a majority of the votes cast in any election, on the fourteenth day thereafter a runoff election shall be held between the candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor receiving the highest and second highest numbers of votes cast
(Underlining to stress and show portions that could be amended)
This is the law that created the so-called "majority plus one requirement, which only applies to the election of a Governor and Lieutenant Governor
This wording could be changed to: Candidates for the office of Governor of the Virgin Islands, together with the Lieutenant Governor shall be chosen jointly by receiving the highest amount of the votes cast by the people who are qualified to vote
The reference to "legislature" means nothing because a qualified voter is a voter…period. This law may have had some meaning back in 1936 when there was only a legislature and the governor was "selected" by the president prior to the law. Requiring a majority vote was a way of ensuring that a multiple-candidate run for the governorship would not produce a Governor who may have very few votes and still win. We have primaries now that limit the field; we didn't then.
The rest of the law is too wordy and archaic, as many laws tend to be.
The quick answer is to petition the Congress for a modification of that section of the law, which could occur as soon as next year. The long-term answer is to enact a Constitution of our own doing which will have wording expressly to prohibit such flaws. I would suggest to Mr. Esteemed that the time needed to change the Organic Act may be the same as a submission to Congress of a new Constitution which will be up-coming in just over a year, provided it is ratified by the electorate beforehand. I would think that the Congress would not act on any revision to the Organic Act knowing that legislation is before them to repeal it. The next gubernatorial election will be over four years away. I hardly think that any Organic Act change would be required if the new Constitution is ratified and the Organic Act is repealed.
Many of the laws and especially the regulations governing the Virgin Islands, through the parent Organic Act, would also be repealed or possibly incorporated by reference provided they are consistent with the new Constitution. Much work will have to be done in all areas of the government in regard to new laws and regulations as they relate to the new Constitution if approved by Congress. The fact that Congress, who for many years, has consistently requested that the Virgin Islands create a Constitution, mostly when Democrats controlled Congress, is reason enough to believe that it would pass easily.
It is important to note that massive changes in the way we do government business will be affected by the new Constitution, and rightfully so. The present Organic Act and the associated laws and regulations thereto are now overly cumbersome and, at a minimum grossly archaic for the twenty first century.
The Virgin Islands needs regulatory change, which the new Constitution, if properly written, will provide a mechanism for. I, for one, am excited about the possibilities of a new Constitution and I feel confident that the majority of the electorate feels the same.
I would suggest holding off on any changes to the Organic Act until we see what happens at the Constitutional Convention.
Paul Devine
St. John
Editor's note: we welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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