ST. THOMAS — The St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections during a meeting on Monday voted against certifying the April 8 special election results, a move that sends further into question the fate of a 15th Senate seat that has been vacant since the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands barred Senator-elect Kevin Rodriquez from being sworn-in, based on residency discrepancies surrounding his candidacy. The court challenge to Mr. Rodriquez was brought by Janelle K. Sarauw — who had lost her attempt to be a senator in the November 2016 general election, but wound up winning the special election — and Brigitte Berry, Ms. Sarauw’s campaign aide.
The prevailing vote not to certify the election succeeded with a 3-2 margin, with board members Maurice Donovan (Mr. Donovan made the motion not to certify), Board Chairman Arturo Watlington, Jr. and Carla Joseph voting in favor of the motion. Voting against the motion were board members Ivy Moses and Lydia Hendricks. Board member Diane Magras abstained from voting.
Board attorney Julita de Leon, in past meetings, has said that Mr. Rodriquez would first have to be decertified in order for the Board of Elections to certify the special election, which would give Ms. Sarauw her seat — a move that Ms. de Leon maintains only the Legislature can remedy.
When District Court Judge Curtis Gomez dismissed the Rodriquez suit, he also dismissed a challenge by Ms. Sarauw — in essence giving neither Mr. Rodriquez nor Ms. Sauraw a victory. An appeal by Mr. Rodriquez to stop the certification of the special election was also dismissed.
But Mr. Rodriquez has yet to be deemed ineligible for the seat by any court, according to Ms. Leon, in essence leaving two elected candidates — one during the November 2016 general election, and the other during the April 8, 2017 special election — eligible for the 15th seat.
Governor Kenneth Mapp called the Special Election immediately following the District Court’s decision to dismiss both the Rodriquez and Sarauw suits. The election cost an estimated $90,000, and was deemed by many the final chapter in a protracted battle to complete the Organic Act-required Senate body, with its mandated 15 senators.
Instead, the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections has volleyed the saga back to the Legislature, where some members — including a majority of the Minority Caucus senators — believe it should have been dealt with in the first place.
“I really believe that the Legislature missed an opportunity to provide closure in this matter early on,” said Senator Tregenza Roach in Minority Caucus joint release issued Thursday. “The legal counsel’s opinion made it clear that we were required to act, and as provided in the Organic Act, we would have had the opportunity to make the final decision on whether or not Senator-Elect Kevin Rodriquez would be seated as a member of the body.”