More than 90 percent of absentee ballots for the 2018 runoff election have to be remade, according to V.I. Board of Elections Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr., an unavoidable reality of the short time span between the General Election and the runoff. On Tuesday, Watlington said board members on St. Thomas counted 273 absentee ballots — of which, more than 250 will have to be remade because they are not “official” runoff election ballots and cannot be fed into the voting machines. Watlington said the two weeks between the Nov. 6 General Election and Nov. 20 runoff election gave little time for elections officials to order and receive new ballots.
US Virgin Islands: Court Blocks New Voter Registrations Before Nov. 20 Runoff Election | St. John Source
V.I. Superior Court Judge Denise Francois has granted a temporary restraining order “enjoining, restraining and prohibiting Defendant Arturo Watlington, in his capacity as chairman of the Board of Elections and the Virgin Islands Board of Elections” from allowing voter registration in the St. Thomas-St. John district ahead of next week’s runoff election for governor and lieutenant governor, the V.I. Department of Justice announced Wednesday. Meanwhile, the fact that one district planned to register voters while the other did not appears to fly in the face of the intent, if not the explicit wording, of a 2016 V.I. law unifying former district elections boards into a single board.
The V.I. Board of Elections postponed its certification of the Democratic primary election Friday after members realized the final certification document did not include a territory-wide tally for the gubernatorial and senator at-large races. Elections Board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. said the document showed only the district results for both races and that he would not certify the election until the document showed a merged, territory-wide result. “Why would we certify these numbers if they only reflect the districts?” Watlington asked. “Our certification has to be territorial, as one entity.”
US Virgin Islands: Elections Board Fields Challenges About Machine Irregularities | St. Croix Source
With the counting of outstanding ballots complete in both districts, V.I. Joint Board of Elections members convened Thursday to resolve several challenges filed by or against candidates running in the August Democratic primary. Nearly two hours was spent at the beginning of the meeting dealing with a recount petition filed by St. Croix Senate candidate Nemmy Jackson-Williams, whose concerns centered on irregularities experienced by voters using machines either during the early voting process or on primary election day. Specifically, two witnesses called by Jackson-Williams and her campaign manager Dale Brown said the voting machines they used didn’t accept their ballots the first time around, and once the ballots were accepted, the screens on the machines didn’t show the voters who they actually voted for.
Early voting will be slightly later today than anticipated. V.I. Elections Board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. said voting could not start until after noon today after testing the machines revealed an inconsistency in how the devices read the ballots. The machines were reading and reporting under-voting for the offices of governor and senator-at-large, but for the main legislative race, in which voters can choose up to seven senators, no under-voting was being reported. Under-voting is the process of selecting fewer candidates for some offices while selecting the maximum number in other races — for example, choosing three senators instead of seven, or voting for seven district senators and withholding a vote in the governor’s race.
US Virgin Islands: Elections officials push early voting later … again | Virgin Islands Daily News.com
Early voting has been delayed — again. According to Elections Board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr., early voting for the Aug. 4 Democratic primary will now begin Monday and end July 25. The announcement, made Thursday at a Board of Elections meeting, marks the third delay in early voting for the primary, with dates previously scheduled for July 10 and July 14. The date changes are largely because of a delay in paying a Nebraska-based contractor — Elections System and Software — an estimated $18,000 for developing and shipping the ballots to the territory, according to Watlington.
Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes met with BVI election officials recently to talk about the territory’s experience with the use of DS 200 Voting Scanner/Tabulator Machine over the years.\ The machines; DS 200 paper ballot tabulators make by ES&S, were a pet project of St. Croix District Board of Elections Chairman Adelbert Bryan, who spearheaded a campaign against the old, 1980s-vintage Danaher Electronic 1242 machines. Bryant said the old machines were unreliable and could be manipulated. Despite many public claims, no evidence that they can actually be manipulated or that they ever have been manipulated was presented. The territory switched to the new machines in 2013. The machines did not count votes by party symbol correctly in 2014, leading to controversy. The software was subsequently updated.
US Virgin Islands: As Election Year Dawns, Board Of Elections Offices Remain Closed ‘Until Further Notice’ | Virgin Islands Consortium
With another big election year just days away and voter registration drives looking to start early next year, Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes said in a release issued Wednesday that the St. Croix and St. John Elections offices will remain closed “until further notice.” “The St. Croix District Office located at Sunny Isle Annex Unit 4, remains closed until further notice as we deal with major renovations after Hurricane Maria,” Mrs. Fawkes said. “We do not have the capability to provide any voter’s identification cards, we can only register voters. The St. John Elections Office has no internet service; therefore, we also cannot provide any voter identification cards. The St. John residents can register at the St. Thomas Elections Office. Presently, the only functional Elections Office is the St. Thomas Office, which is 90 percent operational.”
US Virgin Islands: Elections Board Compelled to Certify Sarauw’s Election When It Meets in Two Weeks | St. Croix Source
The St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections must certify the April 8 special election results, according to a judge’s order, clearing the way for Janelle Sarauw to take the vacant seat in the V.I. Senate. Board members said Thursday they will deal with the issue in two weeks. According to a short ruling issued Thursday by Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay, Sarauw had “no other means” of obtaining emergency relief and is therefore entitled mandamus relief.
After a meeting that lasted only15 minutes, St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections members voted Monday not to certify the April 8 special election results and left the matter in the hands of the Senate to figure out. The special election was triggered in the wake of a back-and-forth between Kevin Rodriquez and Janelle Sarauw, who, at this point, have both been elected to fill the same St. Thomas-St. John District Senate seat. At a special meeting earlier this month, Elections board attorney Julita de Leon said that Rodriquez would first have to be decertified in order for Sarauw to sit, and by law, only the Legislature has the authority to make that happen.
Plaintiffs from Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico are making an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, arguing that where you live shouldn’t impact your right to vote for President. The Segovia v. Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners’ appeal is now receiving extra support after a new crowdfunding platform, CrowdJustice, selected the case as part of its United States launch. CrowdJustice, founded in the United Kingdom in 2015, helps raise funds for individuals, communities and non-profits seeking justice in the legal system. “We are excited to have our case selected by CrowdJustice, which will help bring national attention to the issue of voting rights in U.S. territories while also providing important resources to expand our advocacy,” said Neil Weare, President and Founder of We the People Project, a non-profit that advocates for equal rights and representation in U.S. territories. “The message we have for the rest of the country is that where you live should not impact your right to vote for President or have voting representation in Congress.”
The St. Croix District Board of Elections meeting Wednesday ended in chaos, with multiple motions made to unseat the chairwoman current at the beginning of the meeting and the subsequent chairman apparently seated during the session. Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal was board chairwoman as the meeting got underway. Glenn Webster, who initially was board secretary, moved that Belardo de O’Neal be removed from heading the board because, he said, of collusive action with her husband she had tried “to deliberately defraud the people of the Virgin Islands.” After the motion was seconded, Belardo de O’Neal said, “Hearing no objection, the motion passes.” Having no discussion on the motion seemed to upset board member Adelbert “Bert” Bryan, who said, “We cannot tell what we are talking about.” Other board members argued that there was no sense having a discussion on the motion since it passed.
US Virgin Islands: Territorial Voting Rights Lawsuit Faces Setback As Election Nears | Virgin Islands Consortium
Six U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands saw their hopes of being able to vote for President in November take a step backward as a federal court ruled on Tuesday that Congress can deny the right to vote for state residents who move to certain U.S. territories while protecting it for those who move to other territories or a foreign country. Still pending are plaintiffs’ claims that a similar Illinois law also violates equal protection. Lead plaintiff Luis Segovia, a U.S. citizen who lives in Guam, served an 18-month tour in Iraq with the U.S. Army followed by a 10-month tour in Afghanistan as part of the Guam National Guard, yet as things stand he won’t be able to vote for President in November. Three other plaintiffs are also veterans – two from Puerto Rico and another from Guam. Also joining the lawsuit is the Iraq Afghanistan and Persian Gulf Veterans of the Pacific, based in Guam, and the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands. The case is part of a broader effort to secure voting rights in U.S. territories and the District of Columbia through a new constitutional amendment.
Gordon Ackley, write-in GOP candidate for Congress, and the V.I. GOP jointly filed suit Friday in federal court to demand the V.I. Election System hold a GOP primary or simply place Ackley on the November ballot, according to a statement sent Friday by Dennis Lennox, spokesperson for Ackley and the V.I. GOP. Ackley never filed a nominating petition prior to the statutory May 17 deadline for all candidates, but was chosen by the V.I. GOP to be its nominee for Congress at its June 11 convention on St. Thomas. The suit alleges V.I. voters were disenfranchised because there was no primary. “The actions of the defendants not only have the effect of violating the rights of Mr. Ackley and the Republican Party but also cast serious doubts on the ability of defendants to hold a fair and meaningful election in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” according to the complaint, filed in District Court on St. Thomas.
US Virgin Islands: Territorial Litigants Respond To Federal Opposition To Voting Rights Challenge | Virgin Islands Consortium
As Democratic presidential primaries approach in Guam (May 7), U.S. Virgin Islands (June 4), and Puerto Rico (June 5), and as the Republican and Democratic National Conventions draw near, voting rights advocates in U.S. territories are taking action both inside and outside the courtroom to bring an end to the disenfranchisement of the more than 4 million Americans living in U.S. territories. Yesterday, plaintiffs from Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands filed a response in the Northern District of Illinois to the federal government’s opposition to a voting rights lawsuit seeking expanded voting rights in U.S. territories. At the same time, We the People Project – a nonprofit advocacy organization that fights for voting rights in U.S. territories and the District of Columbia – is releasing a proposal for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would provide full enjoyment of the right to vote for U.S. citizens who call these areas home.
US Virgin Islands: Bill To Create One Board Of Elections For Entire Territory Moves Ahead | Virgin Islands Consortium
A bill sponsored by Senator Kenneth Gittens, who has been working for many months to reform the territory’s election process, was narrowly approved by members of the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, which Mr. Gittens chairs, albeit with some opposition and not before an amendment was added to the measure. Bill no. 31-0267 would amend Virgin Islands Code to merge all three board of elections — St. Croix District board, St. Thomas District board and the Joint Board of Elections — into one system that would simply be called the Board of Elections; and would govern the entire territory. The details of the measure, however, caused some concern at the hearing, held at the Fritz E. Lawaetz Legislative Hall here on Wednesday, including from St. Croix District Board Member Raymond Williams, who said some parts of the measure may be unconstitutional.
US Virgin Islands: Attorney General Walker Says Voters Must Feed Ballots Themselves | St. Croix Source
In a formal opinion he issued this week, acting Attorney General Claude Walker told the St. Croix District Board of Elections that voters must be allowed to feed their own ballots into voting machines in the upcoming 2016 elections. Walker was responding to the board’s request for his interpretation of two major court cases affecting how ballots are processed: the 1968 U.S. District Court of the Virgin Islands case of Melchior v. Todman, and the 2014 V.I. Supreme Court case of Mapp v. Fawkes. In his letter to St. Croix Board of Elections Chairwoman Liliana Belardo de O’Neal, Walker said the 1968 case no longer applies because the law it addressed was repealed.
A new machine that voters will use to cast their ballots in the territory’s next election will not only save the V.I. Board of Elections money on paper costs, but it will also reduce the chance of voting errors, said Willie Wesley Jr. of Omaha-based company Election Systems and Software. “It’s going to actually put the Virgin Islands on the cutting edge of technology,” Wesley said. “If there’s something out there more advanced than this, I want to see it.” Wesley, who has been working with Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes to overhaul the territory’s voting technology, gave a demonstration of the new machine at Tutu Park Mall on Thursday evening. The machine is called ExpressVote and is a touchscreen computer system that voters insert a blank ballot into before making selections. The ExpressVote then prints barcodes on the ballot that can be read by an electronic tabulator.
US Virgin Islands: Joint Elections Board: Voting Machine Software Changes will Eliminate ‘Confusion’ Next Election | St. Croix Source
Changes approved Friday for software currently used in the territory’s voting could help prevent some of the confusion seen during the 2014 general election or, according to some Joint Board of Elections members, help make the situation worse. Among other things, voters last year were concerned that Elections officials were hand-counting party ballots in an effort to make sure they were not spoiled. At the time, board members said they did not agree with how the machines tallied ballots that had the party symbol selected and changes approved by the Joint Board during a Friday meeting on St. Thomas will ensure that: the software in the voting machines must be designed to keep ballots consistent with any party symbol selected by a voter (meaning that ballots will either be all Democratic or all Republican once a certain party is chosen);
The St. Croix District Elections Board discussed plans for election reform and ways to deal with a perceived violation of a contract from the supplier of the territory’s voting machines, which, according to some, did not perform as expected, adding expense and delays to the 2014 general election. … In the past, the board has discussed some of the changes they feel are needed, including revising the general elections ballot, the timing of primary elections to include military voters serving overseas, early voting, deadlines for filing candidacy and retaining independent legal counsel. … The other issue that drew heated discussion was dealing with the company, ES&S, which sold the territory voting machines that were used in the 2014 election. According to Elections, the machines did not perform as promised. After the primary election, board members determined the machines read some votes incorrectly and did not tally cross-voting correctly. As a result, during the general election, voters were not allowed to scan their own ballots but handed them to poll watchers for processing. That procedure did not sit well with residents.
US Virgin Islands: Voting rights group seeks V.I. plaintiffs Appeals court: No birthright citizenship for American Samoa | Virgin Islands Daily News
The attorneys behind a series of lawsuits that will seek federal election voting rights for the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam are continuing their efforts to find plaintiffs and are now developing their legal strategy, according to Neil Weare, founder of the voting rights group We the People Project. Weare would not give a specific date when his group would file the suits but said they would take place “in the next few months.” Semaj Johnson, a St. Croix attorney who is working with Weare on the cases, said that the group is taking its cues from the African-American civil rights movement, using legal action as a spark for wider social change. “With litigation, oftentimes it’s setting just a piece of precedent to move forward, and for our cause, it really is essentially about the incremental movement,” Johnson said. “We believe that it won’t only happen through the courts, most likely. It will happen through a combination of the courts, legislation, and of course public support.”
US Virgin Islands: Non-profit makes case for lawsuit to restore voting rights to territories | Virgin Islands Daily News
Speaking in front of the V.I. Bar Association, We the People Project founder Neil Weare outlined the case for extending the right to vote in presidential elections to residents of the territory. He also said that his organization, a non-profit group devoted to achieving voting rights for all U.S. territories, would file a lawsuit within months featuring plaintiffs from the territory who claim that their Constitutional rights have been violated by their disqualification from casting federal ballots. Semaj Johnson of the K.A. Rames, P.C. law firm will join Weare in filling the suit. “Virgin Islanders defend the Constitution and democracy abroad while being denied democracy at home,” Weare said to a crowded banquet room Friday morning at Mahogany Run Golf Course, which included Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett and District Court Judge Curtis Gomez.
The right for Virgin Islanders to vote for president of the United States is gaining advocates through a new project. “We the People Project” is a nonprofit organization that fights to achieve equal rights and representation for residents of U.S. territories. Around 50 locals interested in equal voting rights for U.S. citizens living in the Virgin Islands attended an informational meeting Wednesday. Neil Weare, president and founder of “We the People Project,” said people in the territories want full rights. “They should not be treated like second-class citizens. It’s time to move beyond a 115-year-old doctrine. Together we can make the argument that where you live shouldn’t make a difference in your voting rights.”
Quirks of federal law and a century-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling about the shipment of oranges keep residents of territories like the U.S. Virgin Islands from having the right to vote in presidential elections. The We the People Project – a non-profit based in Washington, D.C. – thinks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act is the right time for a legal challenges to change the antiquated rules. Neil Weare, president and founder of the We the People Project, said millions of Americans are denied a critical constitutional right due to the “legal fiction” created in a 1901 suit in which a Puerto Rico businessman sued the customs inspector for the port of New York, arguing that he shouldn’t have to pay import duties on oranges shipped to the city from the then newly acquired territory of Puerto Rico. The high court ruled that territories were not defined as a part of the United States in the matter of revenues, administrative efforts, and voting.
The delays in counting votes and the trouble handling party symbol votes that plagued the 2014 election will repeat themselves in 2016, unless the Legislature acts or a lawsuit is filed and won in the next several months, elections officials told the V.I. Legislature this week. The Legislature met as the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday evening to hear from elections officials. The territory purchased new vote tabulating machines after Adelbert Bryan, who was at the time the St. Croix Elections Board chairman, waged a campaign to get rid of the territory’s previous machines, alleging, without evidence, possible widespread conspiracies to rig the territory’s elections and making numerous dubious claims about the old machines. In a test run shortly before the general election in 2014, the brand new ES&S ballot tabulators counted votes in a surprising way, due to the unique V.I. electoral system where senators vie to be the top seven vote-getters in their district.
US Virgin Islands: Senators question Elections board members, vow changes | Virgin Islands Daily News
Senators grilled Elections board members and staff Tuesday night about the 2014 primary, General and run-off elections. Senate President Neville James said at the beginning of the Committee of the Whole hearing that the purpose of the meeting was to talk about the issues that came up during the 2014 election cycle, and not to discuss election reform. He said election reform would be a topic for a future hearing. During Tuesday’s committee meeting, senators often were frustrated by the lack of a unified voice from the Elections board members. Sen. Kenneth Gittens said every time someone made a statement, some board members would be nodding in agreement and some would be shaking their heads in disagreement. “Not even a choir singing here today, everyone with their own sheet of music,” Gittens said.
US Virgin Islands: Hansen wants to take recount case to U.S. Supreme Court | Virgin Islands Daily News
Sen. Alicia Hansen plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her vote recount case, after the V.I. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that ordered a stop to the recount. The V.I. Supreme Court issued the decision upholding Judge Harold Willocks’ Dec. 24 ruling granting a writ of mandamus in a case filed by Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly against the V.I. government and the St. Croix Board of Elections. Hansen intervened in that case. Rivera-O’Reilly, who was seventh among elected St. Croix senators, filed the case in V.I. Superior Court on Dec. 8 – four days after the board began the recount of Hansen’s write-in votes. Rivera-O’Reilly asked the court to stop the recount on the grounds that it was illegal. The territory’s high court on Thursday found that although the lower court’s decision granting the writ was correct, its reasoning was wrong.
US Virgin Islands: EAC sees ‘no reason for concern’ about Elections System’s corrective action plan progress | Virgin Islands Daily News
Elections officials said they got good news after a teleconference with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission on Thursday. The commission representatives were calling to check in with the boards and the V.I. Elections System and provide a status update on the corrective action plan the Elections System implemented following a scathing 2013 audit. In November 2013, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission released an audit that looked at the Elections System’s compliance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002. In the audit report, completed by the Office of the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General, Inspector General Curtis Crider said his office found that the V.I. Elections System’s lax posture on internal controls put $3.3 million in Help America Vote Act funds and other funding at risk of fraud, waste or mismanagement.
V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks ruled Wednesday that Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen was not a candidate for election to the Senate in the November general election and is therefore not entitled to a recount. The 27-page opinion – which in places reads more like a lesson in English grammar and usage than a legal document – came in response to a motion by Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly seeking a writ of mandamus and injunctive relief against the St. Croix District Board of Elections decision to recount Hansen’s vote. The opinion can be read here. Willocks denied Hansen’s motion to dismiss O’Reilly’s motion, granted the writ of mandamus, ordered the Board of Elections to deny Hansen’s petition for a recount, and ordered that any actions taken as a result of the petition for recount be null and void. The decision appears to put an end to the circuitous and convoluted case that had its roots in 2008, when Hansen was convicted on three counts of willful failure to file an income tax return. Under the Revised Organic Act, the federal legislation which provides the legal underpinning of the territory, the conviction made her ineligible to serve in the Legislature.
US Virgin Islands: 2 days after completing recount, Elections struggling to certify it | Virgin Islands Daily News
The St. Croix District Board of Elections still has not certified the results of its recount process for three unsuccessful candidates from the Nov. 4 General Election, even two days after they completed recounting votes. The board members and its team of talliers completed counting more than 14,000 ballots just after midday Thursday and wanted to compile the votes on a spreadsheet so they could comprehensively review the results, according to vice chairwoman of the board Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal. On Friday, O’Neal said the task of compiling the vote results into categories had taken the staff longer than anticipated, so she was just awaiting their completion before the board would be able to certify the results of the recount. As of late Friday, the compilation still had not been finished, and board member Raymond Williams said he did not know when the tabulations would be completed or when the board would be able to publish the results and certify the recount.