Joint Elections Board Votes to Host Primary Elections

The Joint Board of Elections of the Virgin Islands voted Wednesday to include the 2014 primaries in its election process, but not without lengthy discussion on the Election System’s legal mandate as it relates to the conducting of the primary elections.

The issue was brought up most recently during the St. Croix district board meeting April 2, where no action was taken, and was taken up by the joint board again Wednesday.

At Wednesday’s meeting, St. Croix district board member Raymond Williams expressed uncertainty and suggested seeking legal guidance from Attorney General Vincent Frazer. Salisbury, however, said she believes it is a matter for the joint board and the legislature or a judge.

While some members insisted on just following what the law says, interpreting the law, specifically Title 18, Chapter 11, Section 232 of the V.I. Code, is not a simple matter, according to Board of Elections attorney Kimberly Salisbury. Sections relating to the conduct of the primaries are either vaguely written or contradict each other, said Salisbury.

“This language is extremely vague,” she said, adding that the purpose of the language was to request the parties pay for the primaries. “However, there are a dozen other sections on the code that very clearly seem to be saying the board is responsible for conducting the primary.”

Salisbury added that the code states “the board should submit a budget to fund the primary, which doesn’t make any sense if you’re not conducting the primary.”

“The code states the supervisor shall prepare all things necessary for the conduct of the primary,” Salisbury continued. “Does it mean fund it? Not necessarily. And you can go back and forth on this matter.”

Adding to the confusion was the fact that the Election System has been requesting funds for conducting the primaries, and the Legislature has been appropriating such funds for the last six election cycles, beginning in 2001.

Then, in spite of a 2012 law that required political parties to pay for primaries in addition to submitting primary plans, the St. Thomas-St. John District Board requested funds for the primaries. According to St. Thomas-St. John board member Arturo Watlington Jr., there is currently $350,000 in the miscellaneous section of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget appropriated for the primary elections.

Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes added that the Office of Management and Budget did inform her the Election System would have to fund the primaries, and that the allotment is forthcoming.

Williams made a motion for the board to “carry out the duties of conducting the elections of 2014 based on the funding from the Legislature,” seconded by Watlington.

St. Croix district board member Liliana Belardo-de O’Neal objected, saying the political parties “should fund their own primary based on the law.”

St. Thomas-St. John board member Wilma Marsh-Monsanto also objected, saying it is “grossly unfair to the people” to use public funds to fund the primaries in light of a gaping budget deficit.

The motion carried with a tight margin, with approving votes from members Watlington, Williams, Harry Daniels, Rupert Ross, Glen Webster and Joint Board Chairwoman Alecia Wells. Members Marsh-Monsanto, Belardo-de O’Neal, Lydia Hendricks, Roland Moolenar and Lisa Harris-Moorhead opposed.

Belardo-de O’Neal immediately made a motion, seconded by Moolenar, to adopt and certify the Republican Party’s plan to fund and run its own primary. She referenced a letter dated April 7 from John Canegata, state chairman of the V.I. Republican Party, addressed to Fawkes.

Williams objected, saying it was out of order for any party to proceed contrary to what the joint board had just voted on.

“The proposal does not do the things that the board would do,” said Williams. “If we’re hosting a primary, all parties are supposed to fall under that situation.”

Salisbury said that adopting the Republican plan would not be in the board’s best interests, citing “problems” within it that violate at least three sections of the code.

The motion died, with Daniel, Hendricks, Wells, Watlington, Moorhead, Ross and Williams opposing. Belardo-de O’Neal, Marsh-Monsanto, Moolenar and Webster voted in favor.

In other action, the joint board:
– voted to instruct the supervisor of Elections to identify funds and pay $54,514.88 in outstanding obligations for attorney Scott McChain, who served as legal counsel in 2012 election cycle. Daniel, Hendricks, Wells, Webster, Moorhead, Ross and Williams voted in favor, while Belardo -de O’Neal, Marsh-Monsanto and Moolenar voted no;
– voted to amend its present policy regarding faxed ballots to include consenting at least two board members to transcribe all facsimile ballots to an official ballot to be scanned;
– voted on the policy that after a voter’s third attempt at using the electronic voting machines, the voter would have to sign a written consent waiving his or her right to privacy in order to get assistance from an Election System poll worker through the election judge, as prescribed by law;
– and voted to reconvene 45 days from Wednesday’s meeting to further discuss policies for the 2014 elections.

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