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Joint Elections Board Rejects Justice Department Settlement Agreement

After a long discussion at a special meeting teleconferenced between St. Thomas and St. Croix on Wednesday, the V. I. Joint Board of Elections voted to reject a U.S. Justice Department settlement agreement regarding ADA compliance at the territory’s polling sites.

The settlement agreement followed Justice Department investigations in 2012 and 2014 that found polling sites, most of them public schools, were not accessible to persons with disabilities and did not conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Most of the complaints about the voting sites had to do with parking for wheelchair accessible vans, access ramps, entrances and walkways. Proposed remedies included traffic cones, temporary ramps and signs, and propping open doors to allow access.

Of the 24 sites inspected and found to be inadequate by Justice, only eight sites are scheduled for use in the Aug. 6 primary election.

The Justice Department’s settlement agreement required the Joint Board to make the necessary changes, create a survey of accessibility for polling places, train and inform poll workers about the changes, and designate someone at the sites on election day to review compliance.

The Elections Board members did not have issues with most of the proposed changes and, in fact, had addressed accessibility several months ago after tours of voting sites with V.I. ADA compliance director Jamila Russell.

However, Joint Board Chairman Arturo Watlington said the elections board does not have enough personnel to train elections workers in ADA compliance or to designate someone at each poll to oversee the compliance issues. He said the Justice Department was “overreaching” in its request.

Barbara Jackson McIntosh, acting St. Croix Elections Board chairwoman, pointed out the letter and settlement agreement were received after school was closed for the summer making it difficult to make changes. Additionally, there was not enough time for the board to respond to Justice Department, she said.  Major issues, such as the sidewalk at Ricardo Richards Elementary School and the bathroom at Alexander Henderson Elementary were being dealt with, she added.

Board members on both islands agreed it is up to the V.I. government to render schools ADA compliant. After voting to reject the settlement agreement, they voted to request that the V.I. Attorney General direct the governor and the Departments of Property and Procurement and Education to retrofit the territory’s schools to become ADA compliant.

“It is not a matter of the board rejecting it (the settlement agreement) but the onus should not be placed on the board,” St. Croix board member Raymond Williams said after the motion passed.

The U.S. Justice Department settlement agreement recommended changes to the following schools for the upcoming primary:

–           Charlotte Amalie High, St. Thomas: traffic cones and signs; door props and a lower voting surface for wheelchairs.

–           Addelita Cancryn Jr. High, St. Thomas: traffic cones and signs; wedge ramps at the doors to voting area.

–           Gladys Abraham Elementary, St. Thomas: traffic cones and signs; door props.

–           Julius Sprauve Elementary, St. John: traffic cones, signs and a door prop.

–           Alexander Henderson Elementary, St. Croix: traffic cones and sign. (The St. Croix Elections Board voted to rent a wheelchair accessible bathroom for voters.)

–           St. Croix Educational Complex, St. Croix: a parking sign and curb ramp.

–           Ricardo Richards Elementary, St. Croix: traffic cones, signs and relocate ramps inside and outside.

The Charles Turnbull Library on St. Thomas and the D.C. Canegata Recreation Center on St. Croix were not listed in the settlement agreement as they are new voting sites.

Attending the Joint Board meeting were Watlington, McIntosh, Williams, Alecia Wells, Ivy Moses, Lawrence Boschulte, Roland Moolenaar, Adelbert Bryan and Lisa Harris-Moorhead.

After Watlington adjourned the Joint Board, McIntosh called the scheduled meeting of the St. Croix Board of Elections to order to finalize training dates for election poll workers and exit meetings with poll judges. The St. Croix board also set Aug. 16 as the date the board will certify the primary election.

Attending the St. Croix Board meeting were McIntosh, Williams, Bryan, Harris-Moorhead, Roland Moolenaar and Glenn Webster.

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