ST. THOMAS — A recent Superior Court ruling that ordered members of the district boards of elections to adhere to the law, disband their current forms and operate as the Territorial Board of Elections as mandated by Act. No. 7982, a law passed in 2017, is being appealed by members of the district boards.
The members’ attorney, according to court documents, claim that the Superior Court’s action caused the board members to “suffer irreparable injury” through “the loss if their statutory right to function as members of the district boards.” The filing added that the court should “expedite the review of this case to promote stability in the territory’s election system.”
This is an election year with both senatorial and gubernatorial candidates jockeying for public service positions. Actions by the board, especially in election years, weigh heavy on the integrity of the territory’s voting process.
Last week, Superior Court Judge Denise M. Francois ruled that all meetings held by the boards after August 1, 2017, were in contravention of the law, and actions taken by the boards after the aforementioned date are void. The court further declared that the single Board of Elections is the only policy making body authorized to establish procedures for elections within the U.S. Virgin Islands. The court also enjoined and prohibited the defendants from conducting district board meetings. (Even so, the Boards of Elections announced via release on Tuesday that a meeting would be held on Thursday.)
In a statement issued to The Consortium following the ruling, Attorney General Claude Walker said, “This is a victory for democracy. The distinguished judge called it right by granting everything that we sought. I make no apologies for bringing this case before the court because the people have spoken through their representatives in the Legislature that they do not want separate district boards with St. Thomas holding elections one way and St. Croix another. The people want a single board to establish one set of rules to apply to all candidates and voters to ensure free and fair elections in the Virgin Islands.”
“The bill unifies the boards into one 14-member board while I have issued a charge to my colleagues to bring an amendment post haste that would change the numerical makeup of the board,” Mr. Gittens said during a hearing in 2016. “Some of my colleagues are concerned about the number of members on the board, saying that 14 members would cause a problem in the event of a tie vote, so as soon as an amendment comes that addresses that or one that just reduces the number for the sake of futility, we will take action.”
The measure eventually passed and was signed into law by Governor Kenneth Mapp, becoming Act 7892, but it was found to be flawed when Senator Kevin Rodriquez was disqualified following a protracted residency battle — leaving no elections authority to oversee the process of the April 1, 2017 special election — where Senator Janelle Sarauw became the victor.
In light of this, 32nd Legislature lawmakers passed Act 7982, which gave the disbanded district boards jurisdiction until August 1, 2017 to oversee the special election. Thereafter, the separate boards were to be disbanded to form a single, territory-wide board.
But the territorial board, according to the government, has refused to adhere to the law by failing to meet as a single board.
“While both district boards have convened as the Joint Board of Elections, the members have not to date convened as a “single” Board of Elections,” read the government’s complaint. “In contravention of Virgin Islands law, defendants continue to meet within their district and address matters concerning the election system and upcoming elections which legally are within the exclusive purview of the “single” Board of Elections.”
“The Government of the Virgin Islands is entitled to a declaratory judgment adjudging the defendants have acted in contravention of Virgin Islands law by conducting district boards meetings after August 1, 2017,” the complaint further stated. “The Government of the Virgin Islands is entitled to a declaratory judgment nullifying all decisions made by district boards after August 1, 2017.
“Since March 2017, the board members knew or should have known that Act No. 7892 created a single Board and that a Chair and Vice Chair need to be elected to conduct the business of the Election System. Notice and knowledge of Defendants members is evidenced by the agenda of the August 2017 and February 2018 joint board meetings where the single board is reflected as an agenda item.
“Defendants had notice and several opportunities to comply. Defendants chose instead to conduct meetings contrary to law and make decision that are solely within the discretion of the single Board. It is in the public interest and the public good for all concerned herewith to insure that law is upheld and board members be required to follow the strictures of Act No. 7982”
I wear many hats, I suppose, but the one which fits me best would be journalism, second to that would be radio personality, thirdly singer/songwriter and down the line. I've been the Editor-In-Chief at my videogames website, Gamesthirst, for over 5 years, writing over 7,000 articles and more than 2 million words.
I'm also very passionate about where I live, the United States Virgin Islands, and I'm intent on making it a better place by being resourceful and keeping our leaders honest. VI Consortium was birthed out of said desire, hopefully my efforts bear fruit. Reach me at email@example.com.