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SENATE MAJORITY MAKES ALL SEATS AT-LARGE

May 24, 2002 – While hundreds of Virgin Islands citizens are taking what they call a "tiny step forward" in election reform in a proposed initiative for numbered seats in electing their senators, the Senate majority in the pre-dawn hours of Friday morning passed legislation mandating the at-large election of all legislators.
Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and Celestino A. White Sr. vowed earlier in the week to move legislation for at-large seats for all senators. They said in a release that they are "determined to object to numbered or district seats." Hansen said their move would give "the best accountability to every citizen in the Virgin Islands."
Elections Supervisor John Abramson said Friday morning he would have to see a copy of the legislation before he could comment. "It looks like I will be busy," he said. Frank Fox, president of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, and one of the key movers in the numbered seats initiative, was not available for comment Friday morning. Attorney General Iver Stridiron, who is off island, also could not be reached for comment.
The measure, passed as an amendment to another bill, goes now to the governor. If he vetoes it, a two-thirds majority vote is needed in the Senate to override the veto.
At present, only one Senate seat, that of the legislator who is the de facto representative for St. John, is decided by election at large. That is, all voters in both the St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix districts vote for that seat. All other senators now are elected district wide, with the top seven vote getters in that district being elected.
White said districting is "very dangerous" for the average citizen who seeks representation, and Hansen agreed, although neither said why. Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd of St. John is the only at-large senator now.
On Monday, a "titling board" consisting of Abramson, Attorney General Iver Stridiron and Legislative Counsel Yvonne Tharpes met to draft the wording of the initiative created by a group whose members are calling themselves the V.I. Committee for Election Reform.
The group has gotten 1 percent of the registered voters in both districts to sign a petition asking for the numbered seats. It calls for seven numbered seats in the St. Thomas/St. John district and seven others in the St. Croix district. The 15th senator would continue to be elected at large by voters territory wide but must reside on St. John — as is now the case.
The groups' proposal would require each senator to run for one of the seven seats for that district, instead of the free-for-all system that now exists. Proponents say the numbered seats would make senators more accountable individually, because they would be judged by their performance.
Thursday's night-time Senate activity, which didn't get under way until after 8 p.m., ended around 4 a.m. Friday. As is their wont in full sessions, the senators tacked a myriad of amendments onto one bill, in what has become known as a "Christmas tree" bill. This time it was a bill appropriating $850,000 for a summer youth employment program.
The at-large seats proposal was one such amendment. It passed on a 9-6 vote, which was along majority-minority/independent lines. Voting for the measure were Sens. Adelbert Bryan, Donald "Ducks"Cole, Carlton Dowe, Emmett Hansen II, Alicia Hansen, Norman Jn Baptiste, Liburd, Norma Pickard-Samuel and White.
Voting against were the minority senators — Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton, Roosevelt David, David Jones and Vargrave Richards — and Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the sole unaligned senator.

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