The Senate Government Operations, Energy and Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday voted to forward three elections bills to the Rules Committee and tabled two others. The bills that moved out of committee were: a bill allowing paper ballots under the elections laws of the territory, a bill pushing up the date for primary elections so the territory would be in compliance with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, and a bill changing the way senators are elected to a combination of island seats and at-large seats. Senators said they plan to amend all of the forwarded bills while they are in the Rules Committee. The bill about paper ballots, sponsored by Sen. Neville James and co-sponsored by Sen. Celestino White Sr., would allow voters to choose whether they wanted to vote by machine or by paper ballot. As written, it also requires that all paper ballots be counted after the closing of the polls, at the same time that electronic ballots are counted on election night.
The bill also contains other provisions, including one requiring the Board of Elections to have its own independent legal counsel and one requiring political parties to be responsible for conducting and financing a method of selecting party officers and nominating candidates for party and public office. The Joint Board of Elections would be responsible for certifying the process to be used by any political party.
During testimony, Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr., Joint Elections Board chairman Rupert Ross Jr. and St. Croix District Election Board vice-chairwoman Lisa Moorhead offered recommendations for changes to the bill. Those changes included eliminating the requirement that all paper ballots be counted and reported to the public on the night of the election and a recommendation that the hiring of independent legal counsel be optional for the board.