The Virgin Islands’ primary election is Saturday and the political heat was turned up with televised debates, press releases, forums and radio advertisements this week.
Election officials are also busy and held a special meeting of the Joint Board of Elections on Wednesday morning for candidates who might have questions about a new law that prohibits electioneering within 200 yards of the perimeter of a polling station.
The St. Thomas-St. John district board is holding another meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday.
The meeting Wednesday primarily concerned early voting, absentee ballots and how ballots would be counted. It did not go without incident.
Several board members from St. Croix indicated during the videoconference meeting that they would not be available on Aug. 16 when a final tabulation was to be made.
Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal, chairwoman on St. Croix, said she was not doing any work concerning the primary.
This prompted a lengthy chastisement from St. Thomas board member Lydia Hendricks for members of the St. Croix Board. Hendricks said, “When you join a board you can’t arbitrarily choose what you attend.”
“You can’t just come to the easy things for $75,” Hendricks said, adding, “The issue is a primary and we need to get the job done.”
It is not clear whether the St. Croix members heard all of Hendricks’ remonstrations because, when she finished, it was noted that communication had suddenly been broken with St. Croix. It took several minutes to reestablish a connection.
Election Supervisor Caroline Fawkes reported to the board that 505 early ballots had been cast on St. Thomas, 294 on St. Croix, and 32 on St. John. About 120 absentee ballots have been sent in, according to Fawkes.
Much discussion at the meeting was about the procedure for counting paper ballots. The St. Thomas/St. John board has hired students to help with the counting; the St. Croix board has not.
Policies for the handling and counting votes were discussed but, there being no quorum, nothing was adopted.
St. Croix District Chairman Adelbert Bryan questioned the legality of the meeting since there was no quorum.
St. Thomas District Board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. assured Bryan it was fine as long as no formal votes were taken.
Fawkes said all the voting machines “were ready to go” and the only way the election could be postponed was if the governor declared a state of emergency.
Watlington said this was the “first time ever” that the primary would only include candidates from one party.
Board member Lawrence Boschulte added quickly that the Republican Party had been offered the opportunity to participate but had not submitted candidates before established deadlines.
A press release from the Republican Party on Wednesday afternoon disagreed.
“By not conducting a primary election for Republicans, it looks like the Democrat-controlled Joint Board of Elections is trying to rig the system and deny thousands of registered Republican voters across the Virgin Islands the right to vote and nominate a candidate to challenge the Democratic nominee for Congress,” said John Canegata, Republican Party chairman, in the release.
The Thursday meeting will focus on a bill passed in March prohibiting certain electioneering.
Boschulte questioned who was going to enforce that prohibition.
Watlington asked that a member of the Virgin Islands Police Department attend the meeting.