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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, August 10, 2022


Oct. 3, 2001 — At the same time the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday its plan to abort a legal battle to force the V.I. Legislature to reduce its ranks, members said they are ready to take up a different tact to affect political change.
Chamber president Carmelo Rivera, along with attorney Douglas Brady and former senator Holland Redfield, a member of the organization’s government affairs committee, said the St. Croix business group had decided to drop its June lawsuit seeking to force the Legislature to act in accordance with a referendum last November on reducing the number of senators from 15 to either 11 or nine.
Instead, the Chamber will seek political and election reform by attempting to implement numbered seating for the Senate via the territory’s initiative ballot process.
"This is the first time in the history of the Virgin Islands an initiative has been undertaken as part of the Revised Organic Act," Brady said.
Redfield said that a mandate was issued last November when out of more than 33,000 voters, some 15,000 expressed the desire for a nine-member Senate. The Legislature in July, however, voted against a bill seeking to make the change.
Numbered seating would include seven seats each in the St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John districts and one at-large seat to be filled by a St. John resident. Incumbents would be assigned a numbered seat and challengers would be able to pick who they would run against. The proposed system, Redfield said, would instill debate and accountability to a political process that now more resembles a popularity contest.
"There isn’t any agenda in this," Redfield said. "The only agenda is accountability. I think the electorate in the Virgin Islands is exasperated."
Brady said he was confident the Chamber would have prevailed in the Senate reduction lawsuit, but said it would have taken years for it to run its course. A more expedient way at reform, he said, is the initiative process.
"The suit wouldn’t have changed the process. It was simply a change in the number of senators. They still would have been elected at-large," he said, adding that would have concentrated power in "the hands of a few senators" and would have only "exacerbated issues."
The initiative process
Before the Chamber can get the numbered seating proposal on the ballot, it must go through a series of petitions, verifications and approvals, which are all spelled out in the Revised Organic Act of 1954.
First, the proponent, the Chamber in this case, has to come up with a simple yes-or-no question for the ballot: Shall senators be elected to numbered seats? The Chamber must then collect the signatures of at least 1 percent of the registered voters in each district in order to have the V.I. supervisor of elections qualify the question for the ballot.
Each district, Brady said, has about 27,000 registered voters. So the Chamber must have some 275 signatures before it can go to John Abramson Jr., the supervisor of elections, who has 10 days to verify the signatures.
If everything checks out, Abramson passes the preliminary petition on to an initiative titling board, made up of himself, V.I. Attorney General Iver Stridiron and the Senate’s legislative counsel, Attorney Constance Krigger. Within 30 days, the board will hold a public hearing, prepare the official ballot title, the submission question and a summary of the initiative proposal.
At that point, the Chamber will have 180 days to circulate the initiative petition to the voting public. In order to qualify for the ballot, the petition must be signed by at least 10 percent of the voters in each district. That would be about 2,700 signatures in each for St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John.
If that threshold is reached within the time frame, Abramson has 15 days to verify the signatures. If the criteria is met, Abramson then passes the petition on to the Legislature.
Senators must accept or reject the measure within 30 days. If approved, the petition becomes law. If rejected, the question goes to the voters in November 2002.
The Legislature can, however, submit a counter-initiative to the voters. If both are approved, the question that received the most votes prevails.
For an initiative to pass, at least 50 percent plus one of the voters registered must turn out to vote. If so, then a simple majority will decide the question.
On a mission
One of the major hurdles in the initiative and recall process, as well as past questions regarding the territory’s status, has been meeting the 50 percent-plus-one threshold. But recent efforts by the supervisor of elections to trim the deadwood from the voter rolls – those people who haven’t voted in the last two general elections – should make it easier to meet the percentage requirements.
"There have been thousands of people who have been taken off the rolls" becaus of inactivity Redfield said. "I believe now there are people who truly will be voting. I think it is attainable."
Rivera, The St. Croix Chamber president, said the effort to qualify the initiative will begin immediately. The organization will ask for volunteers to circulate petitions on both St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John. The Chamber of Commerce in that district has not been asked to join in the effort.
"At this point it's just the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce taking the lead," Rivera said.
He also said the St. Croix Chamber will hold public forums about the initiative process and urged voters of all parties and persuasions to join in the effort to "implement meaningful election reform to insure accountability of elected officials.
"We believe we must continue to develop our government," Rivera said. "Good government is good for all the people as well as business."

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