Open Forum: Harriet Mercer Writes an Open Letter to Sen. Positive Nelson

Harriet A. Mercer

Dear Source:

Good day, Senator Nelson. This communication is in reference to your July 23, 2018, hearing re the reinstatement of your candidacy for Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Because Chairman Watlington mistakenly prevented my second round of discussion (after the round succeeding the conference call with your chosen running mate), I choose to make the record clear by registering my concerns by this means.

When I first came in contact with your case on June 12, 2018, it was the day we 3 new Board members were to be deemed Board members. That day would have been our very first meeting, and your case was first scheduled to be heard. As you were at that meeting, you know strangely there was no quorum and we 3 were summarily dismissed as ‘non-members till a later time.’ On that day and at that time, my limited understanding of your case was that your chosen running mate, Mr. Gary Udhwani, had filed all signatures and later registered to vote.

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Then I was made to understand and upon review of certain nomination papers I did see he had limited time to collect a few signatures even after registering to vote around 5pm on May 8, 2018. Before the July 23, 2018 public hearing, I had a yea vote in mind. A stickler for allowing due process, I am pleased my fellow Board members saw it fit to afford your team every opportunity to be heard; notwithstanding all present would have been best. However, upon allowed public dialogue with Mr. Udhwani during said hearing, by his own admission he made it clear that after registering to vote, he did nothing else. Thus, at the end of it all, mostly based on the responses of your chosen running mate, when the time came to make my decision, the nay vote was the only choice I had.

I had no choice but to side with the majority to deny your reinstatement as a candidate. I know now that the Board and System failed you too in that some of our procedures fell short. Our nomination papers certainly can use an upgrade to make it clear that petitioners must be registered to vote before collecting even so much as one signature. Local laws are weak too in that while suggestive, they do not mandate joint candidates file jointly PRIOR to circulating papers. I find it extremely deceptive to the registered voters to purchase “one-legged tables.”

However, because I am not a person to beat a man when he is down, so should you wish to appeal our final decision, I only hope you acquire the legal understanding via your August 3rd hearing in the Superior Court on St. Croix. It is very concerning to me that every election cycle we go through one vetting issue after another. I also hope your selected running mate will be available by then to show and to prove his 1995 voter registration. I hope he will not again be “in the Home Depot cashier line,” and he won’t tell Judge Willocks he “would answer questions only if paid.” This is a serious matter and I for one did not appreciate his “jokes” one bit.

In retrospect, over the years we have seen far too much of our share of despair, disillusionment, and disappointment when it comes to vetting issues. Going forward, therefore, it is my personal hope that, pursuant to the Revised Organic Act §11; applicable portions of the HAVA (Help America Vote Act of 2002); local laws 18 V.I.C. §7 and §263 (a) – (c); as well as the aforementioned need for upgrades to our nomination packages, all aspirants (particularly those for our JOINT office of governor/lieutenant governor) would forevermore use your case [and others] as the proverbial yardstick by which they form teams for the currently highest office to represent the people of this Territory. I thank you sir, for out of this came that observation. Immediately after your hearing, I spoke with Supervisor Fawkes about me producing drafts for that and she agreed. I believe that prior to advancing to candidate, every aspirant is tasked with the duty of checking and balancing each other; especially those aspirants who choose to be running mates for each joint and/or territorial offices; but should they fail, we must have the failsafe mechanisms and identifiers in place. Proper vetting, defects, and disqualification issues need not be so time consuming nor difficult to rectify.

Lastly, contrary to Chairman Watlington’s comment at your July 23rd hearing that “we have not received the hearing-related court order,” as it turns out I just re-checked my emails and found that we all were sent a copy of same on Thursday, July 19, 2018 at 3:29 PM via an email from Shana Alexander, a Court Clerk II of the Civil/Small Claims Court in the Division of STX. When that Marshal of the Court entered said hearing, I was under the false impression that it was some new document, predicated on an anticipated move of The Board, as this is a very urgent matter.

Thanks for affording this Board the opportunity to possibly perfect The System. Hopefully we have each learned valuable things from now engaging in the process.

Warmest regards and best wishes as you proceed,

Harriet A. Mercer, member of the Territorial Board of Elections, Election System of the U.S. Virgin Islands

Cc: Colleagues
Sup. Fawkes/Dep. Sup. Douglas
Bd. Administrative Assistants Georges/Alexandre
Atty. T. Fenster
Atty. E. Henderson III
Attys. A. Smith/E. Scott (VIAGs)

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