Three losing candidates and one sitting member of the Board of Elections for St. Thomas have filed suit to stop the certification of the 2016 election, based on the idea that the V.I. legal mandate to allow party symbol voting is actually illegal, and independent candidates should have had photos next to their names. [2016 Election Lawsuit]
The suit was filed by Harriet Mercer, Wilma Marsh Monsanto, Margaret Price and Diane Magras.
Monsanto was a candidate for the Legislature for St. Thomas. She came in 13th, with 1,474 votes. Price came in 18th place with 550 votes. The top seven vote-winners will be seated. The seventh-place finisher, Dwayne DeGraff, an independent, like Monsanto, received 3,631 votes, besting Monsanto by more than 1,100 votes. Fellow independent Tregenza Roach received 4,812 votes, according to the unofficial tally.
Mercer was a candidate for the Board of Elections for St. Thomas. Three seats were open. Mercer came in fourth, with 2,670 votes, not far behind Democrat Maurice Donovan Jr., who has 2,858 votes in the preliminary tally. She was further behind fellow independent Lydia Hendricks and democrat Arturo Watlington Jr.
Magras is a sitting member of the Board of Elections, sitting for St. Thomas. She was not up for election this year.
Their lawsuit makes a wide array of claims, some of which are clearly stated, such as "straight party ticket voting is illegal because it deprives independent candidates of equal protection under the law."
V.I. law requires party symbols on ballots. Ten U.S. jurisdictions currently have straight party voting. No court has found this to be illegal or unconstitutional. Many more states used to have it. Since 1994, 11 states have abolished straight ticket voting, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
The suit also argues that independent candidates were at a disadvantage and that the ballots should have been reprinted with pictures of candidates next to their names. V.I. law has for many years required pictures of candidates on the ballot. This requirement has not been fulfilled in recent elections, if ever, due to the difficulties in putting pictures of dozens of candidates on a single ballot. The plaintiffs argue that the ballots, which were reprinted to include party symbols, could have also included candidate pictures.
Some of the claims in the suit are difficult to interpret and use many exclamation points in lieu of a clear account of their argument. For example, the plaintiffs say: "When on [November 8,] 2016, Election night Plaintiffs saw and/or learned of cartridges being toted from Board members (such as Defendant Watlington) to System employees (such as Defendant Douglas and Bolques), Plaintiffs contend that that is precisely where undue exposure took place! It is for this reason most exclusively for which Plaintiffs demand the right to the check-check balance of every DS200/AutoMark used on Election Day!"
Magras and Mercer have a history of unsuccessfully disputing elections. In 2012, Magras and Mercer both lost elections and made an inaccurate claim about the certification to argue that it did not count.
They sent out a press release saying the certification did not count because it "was NOT signed in our presence; and the one which Board Member Boschulte did sign was some other paper. We have a picture of that. We know because Board Chairwoman Wells told us the original cert. doc. already went downstairs when we asked to see the signed version. We saw none of the 5 Board Members present sign it in public, nor take it downstairs."
But the Source received a photocopy of the certification document within an hour of its signing, and it was plainly signed by five members of the board, including Boschulte, demonstrating Magras’ and Mercer’s allegations to be inaccurate.
(See "ANALYSIS: Complaints, Calls for New Elections Lack Merit and Waste Time," in Related Links below)
They filed suit to stop the certification and force a new election. Their suit was tossed out in 2013 for lack of merit. (See "Judge Dismisses Losing Candidates’ Lawsuit," in Related Links below)
V.I. law (Title 18, section 629) says before the boards of elections may approve a petition for a recount, the petitioner must swear he or she has "reason to believe and does believe that the records or copies of records made by the election officers at one or more polling places in such district are erroneous, specifying wherein he deems such records or copies thereof to be in error or that votes were cast by persons not entitled to vote therein, and that he believes that a recount of the ballots cast in the district will affect the nomination or election of one or more candidates voted for at such primary or election."
The court will determine if this lawsuit meets that standard.