May 30, 2006 – Anticipating a large turnout at the polls this year, Supervisor of Elections John Abramson recommended during a joint Boards of Elections meeting Tuesday that all polling sites throughout the territory be open during the primary elections.
He said opening the polling sites, which would be covered by funding appropriated by the Legislature, would be convenient for residents. "This is a very contested election," he said. "And I think it's going to be quite large. So we should be ready and in position."
Abramson said that there are 16 sites and 34 polling stations in the St. Thomas-St. John district and 15 sites and 33 polling stations on St. Croix. After the meeting, he added that during the last primary election, only about 7 polling sites were open throughout the territory.
He also said that the decision to open the polling sites rests on the shoulders of the each individual district board. "At some point, action will have to be taken," he stated after the meeting. "But the boards will deal with that separately."
In other news, board members also decided that residents do not have to present their social security card or give their entire social security number when registering to vote. Instead, only the last four digits of their social security number will be required.
Board member Lorna Thomas explained that the board made an executive decision in 1986 that required residents to present their social security card when they register – something, she said, which is not mandated in the V.I. Code.
Abramson added that federal law also does not mandate individuals to present their social security card when they register. "In fact, if someone comes in and says they don't want to show you their card, there's nothing we can do about it," he said.
While board member Raymond Williams pointed out that the local and federal requirements conflict, Thomas said there are residents who are being turned away from the Elections Office because they do not have their social security card. "The other thing that we have to look at is that this is one of the biggest issues we have to deal with in terms of fraud," Thomas added. "And I think that we shouldn't possess someone's social security information unless we have to."
Abramson said the Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires voters be given three unique classification numbers which are then input into the elections database and cross-referenced. Locally, he said, the numbers used are an individual's driver's license or social security number and the identification number on their voter registration card.
However, he said, the elections system is in the process of installing new software which will automatically assign each individual voter a number when they register. He said this number could be used as the third "unique identifier."
Subsequently, the board voted to change the requirement – allowing residents to give the last four digits of their social security number when they register to vote.
Abramson was not able to, however, get board members to seek an injunction to keep certain voter information, such as social security number and current address, out of the public domain. (Currently the V.I. Code guarantees public access to that information.) "We do have access to information of a sensitive nature …." he said. "The public shouldn't be able to see that."
Abramson said there were a few issues which prompted him to meet with Attorney General Kerry Drue. Specifically, he said that his concerns came from a situation that occurred about a month ago, after a women he knew came in to change information on her voter registration card. The woman was a victim of domestic violence, he explained, adding that shortly after her information was changed, someone he knew to be the perpetrator came in and asked to see the new information.
Abramson told board members that he could not deny the individual access to the card, since the law requires that such information be released to the public.
Abramson explained that he had already met with Drue on the matter and was told that the board would have to seek an injunction – which would have to be granted by a judge – prohibiting the release of certain information.
During the meeting board members made two motions on what information should be concealed. However, neither motion was approved.
"I'll take another swipe at them next time," Abramson said after the meeting.
During the meeting, Abramson also discussed some new initiatives which may help voters in upcoming elections – such as replacing poll books with computer-based registries.
The poll books – or the big thick binders which hold the information of each voter in the district – would be replaced by laptop computers, Abramson said. While the new system would not be up and running for this year's election, Abramson added that there would be a demonstration on St. John "to see how it works" during the primary election Sept. 9.
A new audio service installed in the voting machines will be available during this year's election, however. Abramson explained that visually impaired voters will now be able to hear the ballots via headphones and cast their votes accordingly. "We're really working to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible this year," he said.
The board also discussed training additional personnel, in addition to its contracted consultants, to provide technical and programming services for all voting machines. Abramson explained that the individuals would only be used if needed.
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