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All Mostly Quiet on the Election Front

June 12, 2007 — It was quiet at the polls Tuesday for the election of delegates to this year’s fifth Constitutional Convention.
At Frederiksted’s St. Gerard Hall, the sun was shining, a small handful of voters were milling about, chatting, and a chainsaw could be heard in the distance. It was peaceful and not busy at all. As of noon, 101 people had come out — well under half the number typical for a general election.
By 3 p.m., 3,738 people had voted on St. Croix, or 14.3 percent of registered voters. On St. Thomas, 3,558, or 12.6 percent of registered voters had gone to the polls by 3 p.m. By contrast, in the last general election, 45.57 percent of St. Croix’s registered voters had cast ballots by the same time.
Election officials may be disappointed in the low turnout, but the results will still hold and delegates will be elected to the convention nonetheless. Next year, however, when the convention is complete and territory voters decide whether to adopt the constitution, turnout will matter: At least 50 percent of registered voters, plus one, must vote or the constitution will not be adopted.
Those who did come out to the polls Tuesday said they regarded voting in the election as important.
“I think it’s about time we try to go forward with this constitution,” said poll watcher Radiant Morris of Williams Delight. “As time moves on and things change, we have to change, too.”
Morris said she hoped there would be a rush of voters in the late afternoon.
“After 5 o’clock is usually busiest,” she said. “There are always a lot of last-minute people. It’s busiest early in the morning before people go to work and late afternoon when they get off work.”
Wendy Bougouneau said she regards voting as a civic duty.
“I think this is something very important,” Bougouneau said. “Everybody needs to realize the significance of this and come out to vote. I think too many stay away because they don’t understand what’s happening. But the bottom line is a lot of people died so we can exercise that democratic right, so when the opportunity arises, we should take advantage of it.”
There was too much divisiveness before the election, she said.
“I was born here, but my parents moved here,” Bougouneau said. “And I don’t like the suggestion some have been making that we don’t really belong.”
Judy Simmons of Frederiksted was out at Claude O. Markoe Elementary with her young son, Jorden, campaigning for No. 39, Horace W. Graham Jr.
“I knew him in school, at Central High,” Simmons said. “He was always a leader. He was in the Future Business Leaders of America. He’s a former deputy commissioner of Property and Procurement. He is very intelligent, articulate and outgoing, so I believe he’ll do a great job in the convention. I’m proud to be supporting him.”
While Simmons spoke, Jorden kept an eye out. When anyone came to the poll, he would run up and give them a flyer. Meanwhile, his mother reluctantly offered an opinion about a divisive question.
“I think the issue of native rights is overrated,” Simmons said. “Wherever you are from, if you love the island, you won’t cause it harm.”
Helenita Scotland-Crosby, a native of Antigua who moved to the Virgin Islands at the age of 12 and became a U.S. citizen in 1995, was concerned the divisiveness over who was a Virgin Islander clouded the more important issues.
“It seems like there has been a lot of divisiveness about down-islanders not belonging,” she said. “Since I chose to live here and made it my home, I think I have a right to vote and have my interests represented. I’ve been here through Hugo and Marilyn. I’ve seen the economy booming and when it’s been bad.”
Scotland-Crosby wants the constitutional convention and government in general to address more critical issues: “Education, finance, getting the government out of the red, and all the things we need to attend to make our land more secure. We have to be able to offer the youth more than what is available to them. They need jobs, a way to make money. And we need to end social promotion. We have high school graduates wandering the streets who cannot read. We have to do better.”
Of the 30 delegates who will sit down and write a constitution for the Virgin Islands over the next year, 26 were elected by district; half from St. Croix and half from St. Thomas/St. John. Four were elected at large. The election saw 123 people territory wide vying for the 30 seats and 16 vying for the four at-large slots.
There have been four prior efforts to write a constitution. (See "Constitutional Conventions: What’s Gone Before.")
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