Gubernatorial candidate Moleto Smith Jr. is asking the Elections System to reconsider its decision to keep Basil Ottley Jr. on the upcoming primary and general election ballots, and St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections members decided Thursday to table the discussion for now but look at the issue again in the next couple of weeks when the Joint Board of Elections is scheduled to meet.
Earlier this month, Smith wrote a letter to Elections questioning whether Ottley, who is running for lieutenant governor, meets local residency requirements. According to V.I. law, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor have to be bona fide residents of the Virgin Islands and eligible to vote in the territory for five years preceding the the election.
According to the statute, that means Ottley would have had to be living in the USVI since 2009, but Smith has contended that Ottley was living on the mainland during that time and did not move back to the territory until the summer of 2010.
Elections officials have said they conducted a number of background checks before certifying Ottley as a candidate and have found that he is eligible to run. In a recent interview with the Source, Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes said that her office “thoroughly” vets each candidate – which includes conferring with elections offices in the states – before signing off on their eligibility.
St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections members said they would continue discussions on the issue and Smith’s most recent request at the next Joint Board of Elections meeting, which is expected to be sometime in the next two weeks.
Discussions on the case between Elections and Soraya Diase Coffelt, who is fighting for a space on November’s general election ballot, will also continue at the Joint Board meeting.
Diase Coffelt has been waging her battle in court for the last month, but was dealt a blow earlier this month after the V.I. District Court upheld an Elections System ruling that disqualified her from the race. In early June, Diase Coffelt switched her running mate from Warren Mosler to Republican John Canegata, who Elections officials contested could not appear on the same ticket as the independent.
Diase Coffelt challenged the ruling in federal court and was at first granted a temporary restraining order until District Court Judge Wilma Lewis considered whether to grant a permanent injunction. In the meantime, Elections printed sample ballots that did not include the names of the mixed-party team, and officials recently said – after Lewis issued a ruling upholding the Elections System’s decision to disqualify Diase Coffelt and Canegata – that they would not include their names on the ballot for the General Election. Diase Coffelt is taking the case to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Thursday’s district meeting also gave Fawkes a chance to update board members on all activities leading up to the Aug. 2 primary. Specifically, Fawkes said that 187 absentee ballots have arrived at the Election System offices and will be mailed out within the next two days. Along with receiving updates on meetings for poll watchers and other Elections workers, district board members also spoke Thursday about setting up 24/7 practice voting machines around or near Elections offices so that voters could get a chance to become more familiar with how they work.