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Low Turnout But Polling Places Still Buzzing

Sept. 13, 2008 — Polling stations around St. Thomas were abuzz with excitement Saturday, as residents turned out to vote to for their favorite candidates, while numerous supporters — carrying everything from large signs to laminated bookmarks — tried to get in some last minute campaigning.
In most places, the number of recorded voters was below 200 — a turnout that Elections judges said is expected during a primary election.
"Over here at the Charlotte Amalie High School Annex, things have been slow, but there's always been somewhat of a steady stream of voters," said Elections judge Celina Barthlett. "It may be that more people will come out later in the afternoon after they finish work, though."
By 1 p.m., CAHS had recorded 107 voters, while the station at Oswald Harris Court — always a "low turnout station," according to Barthlett — listed only 26.
Outside the high school's gates, the picture was a bit different, as the sidewalks were bursting with residents handing out flyers and other paraphernalia bearing the pictures, resumes and slogans of candidates running for both public and private office.
Lydia Morris and Eugenia LaFranque were posted near the CAHS entrance for most of Saturday morning, asking residents to re-elect Donna M. Christensen as delegate to Congress.
"We think she's done an outstanding job, and she's established a seniority that has put her at an advantage in being able to get things done for the Virgin Islands," LaFranque said. A few other candidates — senatorial hopefuls Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Patrick Simeon Sprauve — also put in some face time at CAHS, shaking hands and speaking with residents about their 2008 goals and objectives.
But this year's election is not only about the 2008 Senate race — other supporters stationed outside CAHS reminded residents to think about their choices for Board of Education members and those candidates running for positions within the Democratic, Republican and Independent Citizens' Movement parties.
"This year, I'm out here trying to get the word out about Yegin Habtes, who has some very good ideas about changing the education system in the Virgin Islands," said Solomon Kabuka, a professor at the University of the Virgin Islands. "Having worked in teaching for the past 30 years, I'd say that he has a good amount of experience he can bring to the Board of Education, whose relationship with the Department of Education and the university needs to be refined and strengthened."
At noon, Joseph Sibilly Elementary School boasted about 155 voters, according to Elections judge Delma Hodge.
"Voter turnout has been slow, very sporadic, but that's expected during primary elections," she said. "Usually we have two sections for people to vote in, but we consolidated them this year in an effort to be more economical."
Many campaigners sitting outside the school's gates attributed the low numbers to the weather, but were optimistic that the more residents would come out before the closing of the polls at 7 p.m.
"I haven't been out working the polls in about 12 or 14 years," joked St. Thomas resident Marc Stridiron. "I remember them being a little more active, but it's still great to see that people are taking the time out of their Saturday to come out and participate in the democratic process, regardless of who they're voting for or what party they belong to."
At Addelita Cancryn Junior High School, folks stopped to chat with the campaigners outside the school, and hurried inside. The lines were short as voters from Dober Elementary, Ulla Muller Elementary and Gladys A. Abraham Elementary cast their votes at Cancryn.
In a spirit of friendly competition, the election workers at Abraham crowed with the most votes so far — 138 shortly after noon.
Election judge Ivy Williams is an old hand. Sitting at where she spent seven years as principal, she says she first became interested in politics as a member of the youth group of the old Unity party.
"They'd have us running errands, helping folks across the street, wherever we were needed, and I've never stopped. I vote in every election." Williams says education is high on her list of concerns. "I think education is going in the right direction now. We had a summit this summer followed by a retreat on St. John. That shows people care about the teachers. I think Commissioner Terry is doing a good job now."
Chatting with voters, some who declined to be named, agreed on various issues of concern: WAPA bills, the economy, crime, community health, and housing.
Zetty Cherubim had no such reservations. "I always vote, always have," she says. "I need to know who will represent us, and I came today to do that. My issues? Power, electricity, crime, housing, health and, most of all, the children, their education."
Ethlyn Joseph, looking over the crowd, said it looked like a good turnout, in spite of the iffy weather. Issues that concern her are "The economy is important, along with crime."
Her husband, Keithly Joseph, elaborated: "I'm here today because this is the appropriate time. When we hire senators, they must report to us. I need to know what their issues are. Their decisions get passed on to us."
The cavernous gymnasium at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School practically echoed, it was so quiet by mid-afternoon, save for the nearly two dozen election helpers lined up sleepily at tables.
"They (V.I. residents) don't really understand the importance of the primary," said election inspector, Colleen Wallace, acknowledging the slow day. "And then when people get in and they aren't satisfied, they realize, they didn't cast their vote."
Nevertheless, Carl and Rene Milligan were eager to have their voices heard.
"Every vote counts!" Rene declared. "I think it's important to come out."
She and her husband said they were not just voting for the slate of senators, but they also were prepared to vote for the committeemen and board of election candidates as well.
"We get as much information as we can get a hold of," Rene explained. "We don’t know them personally, so you ask others, 'Do you know these people?'"
Joranie Jackson, said as she walked in to vote, that she was only voting for senators. "The others, I don't know."
At least one polling official acknowledged that many voters were clueless when it came to the slate of committeemen and board of election candidates.
"Voters look for name recognition and that's how they'll vote," explained
Zeathea Milliner, a poll judge at Joseph Gomez Elementary School. "The people who are running don't campaign for the different boards."
Two first-time voters said they weren't going on name recognition alone. Jamelia Blyden, 19, and her friend Kelly Davis, 18, said they did their homework before coming to the polls.
"My mother works at the Legislature with Sen. (Shawn-Michael) Malone," Davis said. "I got to know how they operate in the sessions."
Davis said she wished more people her age were doing what she was doing Saturday afternoon.
"They should come out into the community to voice their opinions," she said.
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