District Judge Wilma Lewis ruled Tuesday that the group seeking to recall members of the St. Croix Board of Elections had not acquired the necessary signatures to force an election, granting summary judgment in favor of the Board of Elections and dismissing the plaintiffs' complaint.
The 34-page decision was issued Tuesday and posted online by the plaintiffs, the V.I. Action Group. The group has been seeking to recall six of the seven members of the St. Croix Board of Elections.
Based on their petition drive, the Action Group believed it had raised enough to recall four of them – Ana L. Davila, Carmen Golden, Dodson K. James and Lisa Harris-Moorhead. However, at its April 4 meeting the Board of Elections voted 2-1, with the four subjects of recall abstaining, that the petitioners were using a flawed reading of the Revised Organic Act as it pertains to recalls.
The act says recall petitioners must acquire a number of signatures equal to “at least 50 percent of the whole number of votes cast for that office at the last general election.” Supervisor of Elections John Abramson and later the board argued that means half of all the votes cast for the Board of Elections, not the number of votes cast for the particular candidate.
The petitioners countered that such strict adherence to the language would produce the absurd result of requiring two to three times more signatures than the official actually received in votes. In hypothetical cases, it could actually require more signatures than there are registered voters. Congress couldn't have meant that, they argued.
Lewis found only one legal precedent, but during arguments both sides accepted it for use in this case. By dividing the total number of votes by the number of positions filled a reasonable target can be arrived at.
“This approach avoids the absurd result of the literal interpretation urged by Defendants,” Lewis wrote, saying it provides a result “consistent with the legislative purpose.”
This brought the question down to one final phrase from the Organic Act, whether the number of signatures should be based on the election at which the officials were elected, or from the last time that office was voted on.
The petitioners argued that it should be based on the election at which those officers were elected, the 2008 election, in which case they had acquired enough signatures. The board argued, and Judge Lewis agreed, that you can't ignore the clear language of the act – votes cast for that office “at the last general election” – and the tabulation must be based on the 2010 election.
Based on those numbers, the petitioners had failed to acquire enough signatures and the recall petition was unsuccessful, Lewis ruled.
The petitioners were represented in court by attorney Yohana Manning of St. Croix. The Board of Elections was represented by St. Croix attorney Scot F. McChain.