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PUBLIC MONEY TO FUND PRIMARIES AFTER ALL

May 1, 2002 – St. Croix will hold a primary election on Sept. 14, a Saturday, Dodson K. James, chair of the St. Croix Board of Elections, announced Wednesday.
John Abramson, the territory's supervisor of elections, said that the St. Thomas-St. John board will set its primary date when it meets on Thursday.
The general election will be held on Nov. 5, he said.
The Legislature passed an amendment to the V.I. Code in January that allows political parties to pick their candidates to run for public office in general elections on their own. However, Abramson said Wednesday, Attorney General Iver Stridiron issued an opinion on April 24 that the law is too vague. This means that the two districts' Boards of Elections are still charged with holding primaries.
"There is no language in the amendment which shifts the responsibility from the Boards of Elections to the political parties to conduct primaries or elections," Stridiron wrote.
His eight-page opinion said the amendment merely addresses "certifying the process" of elections, not the implementation of primary elections. He wrote that the amendment does not change the responsibility of the Boards of Elections to hold primaries, but "only adds an additional requirement that the Board of Elections certify the process used in the primaries." This means a Board of Elections has to "authenticate or vouch for a thing in writing," he stated.
The amendment, introduced by Sen. Celestino White, also does not address financing of the primary elections, so that cost remains with the Boards of Elections, the attorney general's ruling said.
Stridiron also wrote in his opinion that he had asked for a transcript of the legislative proceedings to help clarify matters but was told they have not been transcribed. "It is impossible to discern the legislative intent when it directed the Boards of Elections to 'certify the process,'" he wrote.
The change came about when the Senate on Jan. 30 overrode the governor's earlier veto of that and other provisions of a multi-part bill. The amended section had previously read: "Party primary elections shall be held in the Virgin Islands on the second Saturday of September for the purpose of choosing candidates for nomination to public offices to be voted for at the ensuing general elections. The Board of Elections will be responsible for certifying the process to be used by any political party to select party officers."
The amendment added these words: "and candidates for public office."
Responsibility "for certifying the process" was understood by White and by Abramson to mean that the government itself was no longer responsible, administratively or financially, for holding primaries for parties to select their candidates for public office. White, an independent, has said of the political parties, "There's no reason the people should have to pay for their primary elections. They could hold a convention and figure it out themselves."
Two years ago, the election law was changed to end the government's responsibility for conducting primary elections to choose party officers — but not candidates for public office.
Stridiron could not be reached Wednesday for further comment.
Abramson said he received the attorney general's opinion on Monday. He has said it costs $160,000 territorywide to hold a primary election and that the St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John boards will meet jointly to figure out a strategy for getting funding to hold the election.
For background, see "Loud protests to quiet changes in voting law" and "Parties disputing intent of new primary law".

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