Joint Elections Board Chairwoman Resigns Amid Legal Clash with Government

Arturo Watlington Sr.
Arturo Watlington Sr.

The chairwoman of the Joint Board of Elections resigned her post during a meeting Friday amid legal wrangling with the V.I. Department of Justice over the structure of the board.

Barbara Jackson McIntosh announced she was stepping down moments after members of the Joint Board of Elections voted to postpone the election of new officers. Postponing the choice of new officers came as the Justice Department and the Virgin Islands Democratic Party filed suit against the board seeking to enforce Acts 7892 and 7982. The two laws, passed a year ago by the Legislature, disbands the previous elections board structure of three separate panels – two district boards and a joint board – and create a single territorial elections board.

The Democratic Party and its state chair, Donna Christensen, sought an action for declaratory judgement. Christainsen said the party wants clarity about the conduct of the August 2018 Primary.

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Friday’s meeting was held by videoconference between St. Thomas and St. Croix. A motion to table any discussion on a single board pending a court action was made by Joint Board Secretary Arturo Watlington Jr. and seconded by St. Thomas district board member Lydia Hendricks.

St. Croix board member Raymond Williams objected but declined to debate the matter.

Joint Board Vice Chairman Carla Joseph immediately declared herself the new board chairwoman.

Those supporting the motion cited the Revised Organic Act of 1954.

“This matter is presently in court. The court has refused to grant the summary judgement motion that surrounds this whole thing. So, I think it’s untimely to select any one board, based on the fact that there’s a dispute and three different laws – two passed by the Legislature that conflict and also the Organic Act that conflicts,” said St. Croix board member Lisa Harris-Moorhead.

Last July elections board officials voted to challenge the single board laws and chose attorney Julita deLeon to file a lawsuit on their behalf. That process was interrupted by the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September which disrupted the operations of the Superior Court, along with almost everything else in the territory.

Included in the board’s opposition is the stance that those elected in 2016 have not completed their two-year terms that run until the General Election in November 2018.

Since Acts 7982 and 7892 do not address how members to a single board are elected, enforcing the law as it exists would abrogate the will of voters who cast ballots in 2016, the action claims.

“We should not take any action. Let the court decide this matter. The sooner the better so we can take care of all the other items we have to do, including if we will have some direction about what members are going to be elected to what in the districts or on a single Board of Elections,” Watlington said.

St. Croix member Adelbert Bryan said the recently filed lawsuit by Justice only confuses the matter.

“The Revised Organic Act is clear … The Revised Organic Act has two district boards,” he said.

Watlington, who is also chairman of the St. Thomas district board, conducted a meeting last week. Given the laws as they stand, its legality has been questioned.

But on Friday, Watlington said members submitted invoices for per diem payments after the district meeting. And, he said, more meetings may be convened, depending on pending court actions.

Meanwhile, Joseph said she stands ready to carry out the duties as chair of the joint elections board.

“I will take over the management of this wonderful and talented board,” the new chair said.

Members were also summoned while at the meeting on St. Thomas to attend an April 19 status hearing on the Justice Department case before Superior Court Judge Denise Francois.

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