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Denied St. John Delegate Loses Elections Board Appeal

July 10, 2007 — A St. John man’s claim that a ballot redesign cost him a spot as a delegate to the 5th Constitutional Convention got rejected Tuesday by the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections.
Board members voted against Harry A. Daniel’s complaint about the special-election ballot. Daniel received the eighth-highest vote count for the St. Thomas-St. John district in the June 12 election, according to his attorney Clyde Rivers, but he received fewer votes than the two delegates on the ballot for St. John, Alecia Wells and Elsie V. Thomas-Trotman.
While V.I. law does not put a set limit on the amount of delegates that can be chosen from each island, it does say that a minimum of two must be from St. John. Rivers argued that the ballot’s redesign placed a cap for St. John candidates to a maximum of two and “disenfranchised” his client.
“Mr. Daniel ranked eighth overall and, because he ranked eighth, that clearly makes him a delegate,” Rivers said.
The special election’s official ballot says, “13 delegates shall be elected from the district of St. Thomas-St. John, who shall be residents of either St. Thomas or St. John, provided that not fewer than two delegates shall be residents of St. John.”
On the ballot, there are two columns, one for the St. Thomas candidates and one for those from St. John, although both fall under the heading of the St. Thomas-St. John district.
In his opening statement to the board members, Rivers argued that all 13 delegates could have been chosen from either island. “It is contrary to the law putting them in a category all by themselves,” Rivers said. “It ensures that only two could be elected, and that is contrary to the law.”
The way the ballot was “prepared or structured” prevented Daniel from becoming a delegate, Rivers said: “This body in creating a ballot should make it consistent with the law.”
Rivers urged board members to “take an affirmative step” by either adding Daniel as a delegate or nullifying the St. Thomas-St. John district election. He suggested a new election take place with a ballot that corresponded with the law. “Failure to do that violates Mr. Daniel’s rights and a lot of individuals’ rights,” he said.
The original ballot placed all St. Thomas-St. John candidates under one column. But with the redesign of the old ballot, St. John candidates were separated. The ballot was redesigned after board members complained about the at-large candidates from St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix districts getting lumped together in one column. The concern was that voters would get confused and vote for more than the set four candidates from each district, which would conflict with V.I. law.
Board members questioned why Daniel did not come forward with his complaints before the June 12 election. Rivers said Daniel had only seen the ballot on the day of the election.
“It is strange that Mr. Daniel did not see the ballot until the day of the election, when a press release was sent out,” said Board of Elections member Arturo Watlington Jr. “To me, if he wanted to challenge the ballot, it should have been before the election.”
Added Board of Elections member Colette White-Amaro, “There was ample time to challenge the ballot until the day of the election.”
On June 16, Senator Ronald Russell issued a press release expressing support for Daniel: “A careful reading of Act No. 6688 Section One provides there should be three constitutional convention delegates from St. John instead of two, as initially reported. The law does not limit the amount of delegates that could have been elected as residents of St. John.”
Daniel vowed to fight on.
“Nothing in the law states that there could only be two delegates from St. John,” he said after hearing the board’s decision. “We are going to move on with this. The next step is court.”
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