After its newly elected members were sworn in Tuesday morning, the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections met for the first time for the year and selected its officers.
Reelected during last year’s general election were Arturo Watlington Jr., Lydia Hendricks and Alecia Wells, along with newcomer Maurice A. Donovan Jr.
During Tuesday’s organizational meeting on St. Thomas, Watlington was reelected as the board’s chairman, followed by Donovan as vice chairman and Carla Joseph as secretary.
Discussing their goals for the year, members said now that everyone has been sworn in, the top priority for both district elections boards is to clarify when they will be consolidated.
The move to unify both boards came last year with the signing into law of Act 7892, which sets up a unified Board of Elections with 14 members, with seven from each district and no more than four members per district allowed from any one political party or from no party.
Watlington said that language in the law gives two dates for implementation, one on Jan. 17 and another for after the 2018 general election. While the date first has to be clarified, Watlington added that both district boards have just sworn in new members that would still be serving through 2018.
Members also discussed continued lawsuits filed against the board by former member Wilma Marsh Monsanto, current board member Diane J. Magras, and former candidates Harriet Mercer and Margaret Price.
Marsh Monsanto, Magras and Mercer have continued to rally against alleged operational discrepancies by the board – such as illegal meetings and improper vote counting – and board members decided Tuesday to retain counsel to look over the action and decide whether they should countersue if a judge finds the claims “frivolous.”
“They are asking for monetary damages,” Watlington said of the action. “We should think about bringing on counsel and asking about how to pay for the attorney’s fees if a court finds that these are, in fact, frivolous actions that just cost the people of the Virgin Islands money.”
“We should also look at how to approach dealing with a member, who is a sitting member of the board (Magras), that continues to sue us in an official and individual capacity,” he said.
Talking about goals for the next year, board members said they hope to begin educating the public about new Express Vote machines that are expected soon in the territory.
Before heading out the door, board members asked Watlington for an update on the ongoing suit against Kevin Rodriquez, senator-elect, which challenges his eligibility based on local residency requirements to run for office. Most recently, a preliminary injunction issued by the court has prevented Rodriquez from being sworn in this month.
Watlington said Tuesday that new hearings scheduled for this week will give further clarification to what’s going to happen next.