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Elections Making Progress With Audit, Board Members Say

St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections members said Thursday the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission remained positive about the board’s progress in complying with a 2013 audit that cited more than a decade of financial mismanagement and inadequate internal controls within the Office of the Supervisor of Elections.

“The tone of our conference call today with them was positive, overall,” District Board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. said after the executive session. “They said we are more compliant now than when the audit was conducted and that we have been diligently moving forward in dealing with the recommendations that came out of the audit.”

The audit was performed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of the Inspector General, on behalf of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, to document how funds awarded to the Virgin Islands under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 were spent. The Election System received the audit in August 2013 and responded a month later. During Thursday’s meeting on St. Thomas, District Board members went over exactly what they are doing to meet each of the 20 steps included in a corrective action plan developed in response to the findings.

Most importantly, the audit found that a lack of internal controls within the Supervisor’s Office “put $3.3 million in HAVA funds and other funding at risk of fraud, waste or mismanagement.” Watlington said Thursday that since the audit was released, EAC officials have been “finding more and more” of the financial documentation that they needed to address some of their original concerns about the system.

“We also asked them about their decision to refer issues of unauthorized expenditures for further investigation and they said their understanding about that particular matter is that it has been closed by their inspector general, and that they don’t see any reason now for concern,” Watlington said.

The chairman explained that Elections officials have continued to do what they can to remain compliant with the corrective action plan, including inventorying equipment and making sure that all HAVA funds are correctly reported.

Missing from the conversation with EAC, however, was newly elected board member Diane Magras, who Watlington said would not be allowed into any non-public potions of the meetings until the lawsuit she has pending against the board has been settled. The ban was approved by the board, and while Magras said she tried to amend the motion so that she could be allowed to sit in on portions of executive session that do not deal with the lawsuit, Watlington said there is no telling where or when those legal issues would come up.

“She did try to limit the motion to items dealing with her court case, but we don’t know when those items would be discussed,” he explained.

After the meeting, Magras said she has been encouraged by the Attorney General’s Office to file a complaint.

“I am an elected member of this board, I should be in there,” Magras said later. “They refused to call legal counsel for any immediate advice or opinion dealing with the matter, even though what they were talking about had nothing to do with me. What they are talking about is the misspending of $3.3 million in funds and I want to know what is the status of their compliance. Basically, they just want to exclude me from every single executive session, no matter what they’re talking about.”

The board wrapped up Thursday with a discussion about finances that forced newly elected board member Ivy Moses to request a full accounting of all Elections accounts from Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes. Moses’ motion was made after board members revealed that not all workers from this year’s primary and General Elections have been paid, due to a shortage of funds.

While board member Larry Boschulte explained Thursday that some workers’ pay has been held up because of outstanding paperwork, Watlington said those left over have not been paid because the system’s allotments have not matched what was supposed to have been appropriated.

“The allotments this time were made on a monthly basis, not by quarter as it normally was because of the very, very serious financial shortcomings that were present,” Watlington said in response to questions from Moses about how often the system reconciles its books. “But there is no way for us to short cut an election. There is no way we cannot have enough workers or judges so that the election process is compromised.”

Unanticipated expenses, such as using workers to help count ballots manually after issues arose with the DS200 machines, also came up, he said. Not one payment has been made from the run-off election, Watlington added.

“When it comes to money, I’m a funny person,” Moses responded. “If I’m going work and I know I’m supposed to get paid, I should be able to work and get my money shortly after. The expenditures should have matched the amount of money given for the election and if it wasn’t sufficient, something should have been done to ensure that these people should have been paid or we should have gone without certain things.”

Board members agreed to play more of a role in helping Fawkes balance the books, and said they would start at the next meeting after receiving the accounting Moses requested. Watlington said the Senate would be responsible for allotting the money needed to cover the outstanding payments to Elections’ workers.

Related Link – Federal Audit Finds Past Fiscal Mismanagement At Elections Office

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