86.8 F
Cruz Bay
Thursday, June 13, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsDemocrats: Elections Still Responsible for Conducting – and Funding – Primary

Democrats: Elections Still Responsible for Conducting – and Funding – Primary

The casting of the lots for upcoming primary elections is set for May 31, but with a recent District Court ruling putting the spotlight on inconsistencies in the territory’s elections laws, whether that’s still going to happen as planned is up in the air, as more clarification on the process is needed, Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes said Sunday night.

The District Court order essentially barred the Board of Elections from deciding how a political party organizes its primary because of overly vague language in the law — but left in place rules mandating a primary election take place in August.

How the primary would be organized, candidates chosen, the number of candidates possible, whether there was time to change the law or circumvent the ruling, and if $250,000 of tax money should go to a primary process in the first place, were all questions debated in a more than three-hour legislative hearing last week, where Fawkes said it was not too late to fix the problem by passing new legislation.

“No primary election can be conducted by the Office of the Supervisor unless the Legislature address the issue and make any necessary changes to the law,” Fawkes said during last week’s Senate hearing. “This discussion has been talked about for 10 years. There are laws that need to be specific, like I state, other states are doing primaries, so you need to research and see what we can do to reinforce our law to be more stringent.”

In the wake of her testimony, the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands — whose lawsuit against the Board of Elections and the system’s supervisor resulted in the District Court’s opinion — said it plans to run its own primary if the Elections System of the Virgin Islands cannot, according to a letter received by the Source last week.

The note on Republican Party letterhead asked Fawkes and the Board of Elections to confirm by last Friday if the candidates chosen in the privately-run primary would appear on the 2024 General Election ballot.

The letter, signed by Republican Party in the Virgin Islands Chairman John Yob, was copied to members of the Virgin Islands Legislature. It claimed only candidates selected through the private primary process would be allowed to list themselves as Republicans on the General Election ballot.

Meeting virtually on Saturday, the Democratic Party’s Territorial Committee, however, took a different stance, voting to accept recommendations made by an Ad Hoc Committee formed after the ruling came down that the Elections System is still responsible for conducting and funding the primary. What the party will do, according to Democratic State Chair Stedmann Hodge, Jr., is certify the results.

The Ad Hoc Committee officially presented its report Saturday, followed by an executive session that Hodge said gave members a chance to take a deeper dive into the “legal issues surrounding the opinion.” The report was shared publicly afterward, with members voting to send an official letter to Fawkes and the Elections System explaining the final decision, which:

  • Recognizes that the territory’s election laws, less than six months prior to an election, cannot be amended;
  • Clarifies that it is the party that will certify the election, which Hodge said is consistent with the District Court ruling; and
  • Sets the expectation that the Election System of the Virgin Islands will run the primary as usual and fund it, which Hodge said is consistent with the process used by a majority of other states and territories.

“It is important to note what the case does not say,” the party’s letter to Fawkes and the Elections Board says in reference to the court ruling. “It does not say that the Board of Elections cannot conduct the primary elections of party officials or public officials. It just cannot certify or reject the process or results. The opinion specifically carved out the second sentence of Article 18 Section 232 for its unconstitutionality due to its vagueness, but left the first sentence, ‘Party primary elections shall be held in the Virgin Islands on the first Saturday of August for the purpose of choosing candidates for nomination to public offices to be voted for at the ensuing general election.’”

Reached by phone Sunday night, Fawkes said she’ll await the party’s letter, but reiterated that right now, particularly in light of the ruling, the election laws still have to be clarified before a primary is conducted.

“I don’t write the law, I carry out the law,” Fawkes said. “And the law right now is contradictory and outdated.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.