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Elections Board Examines Latest Lawsuit from Republican National Committee

Voters fill in their ballots at the Gladys Abraham Elementary School Polling site inside UVI's Sports and Fitness Center.
During the 2018 primary, voters fill in their ballots at the Gladys Abraham Elementary School Polling site inside UVI’s Sports and Fitness Center. (Source file photo)

Wednesday, the Board of Elections reviewed allegations contained in a civil lawsuit filed by the Republican National Committee and a group of local Republicans. Board Chairman Raymond Williams reported that a discussion took place at the end of a one-hour executive session at the start of the Wednesday meeting.

The initial complaint in the case of the Republican National Committee et al v. Virgin Islands Board of Elections et al was filed in the St. Thomas District Court on Aug. 2. According to court documents, lawyers representing the plaintiffs claim that the disputed provisions violate their First Amendment right to free assembly.

Representatives of the national committee say they want a declaratory judgment and an injunction, preventing the Board of Elections from exercising provisions of local election laws.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit want the court to keep the board from applying sections of the Virgin Islands Code, Title 18, that address the way internal party elections are held, set term limits, and the number of internal party officers that can be chosen to serve.

The Aug. 2 lawsuit also wants to invalidate subsections in the code that establish separate voting districts for St. Croix and for St. Thomas-St. John.

“The VIGOP wishes to have more flexibility in regard to the number of elected members of the VIGOP central committee and to consolidate representations from St. Thomas and St. John,” the lawsuit states.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs also accuse board members and Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes of interfering with the party’s internal interactions in a way that has caused confusion and kept the party from conducting fundraising activities.

As the executive session of the Wednesday meeting ended, Williams said the Republican committee lawsuit was discussed, as well as a personnel matter within the Elections system, protected by privacy rules. No action was taken on either matter, the chairman said.

In the public portion of the meeting, board members discussed a number of incidents that took place during Saturday’s Primary election where voters documented their completed ballots using cell phones and posted them on social media. The practice is discouraged by the Elections System, Fawkes said, and notices to that effect are posted inside public voting centers.

Fawkes said three instances of prohibited behavior were brought to her attention since Saturday and she said she contacted two of the voters identified through their social media accounts. Board members offered a variety of views on the issue, but agreed they would hold off on taking any action for now.

Members of the elections board also expressed disappointment at voter turnout on Primary Day. Some of their remarks echoed statements made by officials at the Elections system asking whether the voter participation level justified the cost of staging the primary.

Some board members asked what could be done about low voter turnout.

“I think we need to talk about how to run a primary or how to run a General Election and get more people to attend,” said board member Liliana Belardo de O’Neal.

Member Lisa Harris-Moorhead suggested that board members increase their outreach to political candidates as a way to encourage voters. “Perhaps what we can do is to invite the parties and all of the no-party candidates to join us at voters’ registration, and to bring their supporters out to attend those events,” Harris-Moorhead said.

Williams said ultimately, it’s up to the candidates to rally their voters and get them to show up at the ballot box.

“The Board of Elections is not responsible to force or cajole anyone to come out and vote,” the chairman said.

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