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Elections Board Plans Voting Reform Forums

The St. Croix Board of Elections is working on a roadmap from the V.I. Joint Board of Elections for creating an election reform package, with the public’s input, to be presented this fall to the V.I. Legislature. At its regular meeting Wednesday, the board discussed the St. Croix aspect of the effort

Although the final policies and recommendations will be enacted by both district boards through the V.I. Joint Board of Elections, board chairman Rupert Ross stressed the need for immediate action.

"In your absence, I stuck my neck out and said we would have community forums as soon as possible," Ross said. "The sooner we start the process the better. I think the community is receptive to the board reaching out and sharing information."

Working from the general outline proposed by the joint board’s executive committee, the board made tentative plans to hold two public meetings on St. Croix within a month or so to gather input and talk with residents about their concerns and the various voting machines and their options. Then, working with its St. Thomas counterpart, the board expects to work up a comprehensive plan and go back to the public again in August.

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While the public is looking at the draft reform proposal, the elections system will be considering the need for new voting machines, the various models available, and finally how they can be paid for.

There are only four voter machine manufacturers on the U.S. mainland, Ross said. "We should extend an invitation to them to do public demonstrations … set them up, invite the public to look at what is out there," he said.

The goal would be to have the demonstrations in late August, shortly before submitting a final proposal to the V.I. Legislature sometime in September, he said.

The impetus for some sort of election reform began during last year’s election campaign, when some candidates, including newly elected Elections Board member Adelbert Bryan, raised doubts about the reliability of the mid-’80s vintage Danaher Electronic 1242 electronic voting machines.

Bryan and others urged voters to demand paper ballots, and Bryan sued to require the election system to allow any voter to use a provisional or other paper ballot. He lost in both territorial and federal court, with V.I. Superior Court Judge Julio Brady writing that "Even a cursory examination of the … arguments presented by (Bryan) demonstrate a startling absence of proof of facts."

Contrary to the claims of some critics, there is little evidence of problems with such digital-only systems and less that they can be manipulated. But the digital machines have no independent voter-verified paper trail, and some critics argue that without an independent paper record, it is difficult or impossible to check the machines’ accuracy. Concern over that potential has prompted 27 states to require a voter-verified paper trail.

The remainder of Wednesday’s meeting largely revolved around future planning and finalizing the membership of each of the board’s several ad hoc committees. In the only vote of the meeting, the board voted to change the time of its regular meetings from 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

A special meeting of the Joint Board of Elections is scheduled on St. Thomas for March 28 at 10 a.m. Election reform plans and discussion of budget cuts will be on the agenda. Also, V.I. Elections Superintendent John Abramson’s term expires in April, and the Joint Board must decide how it wants to proceed at that meeting, Ross said.

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