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HomeNewsArchivesJudge’s Ruling Could Require $75,000 Outlay for Election Repeat

Judge’s Ruling Could Require $75,000 Outlay for Election Repeat

July 30, 2007 — During budget hearings in Frederiksted Monday, Superintendent of Elections John Abramson asked the Senate to be prepared to consider $75,000 for a new St. Thomas-St. John special election for the Constitutional Convention.
An ongoing lawsuit over the ballot used for St. Thomas and St. John and over the manner in which the board of elections determined winners has delayed the start of the Constitutional Convention. One possible outcome of the case would be a new election. (See “Daniel Election Appeal Undecided After Nine-Hour Hearing.”)
“The judge may lean toward a new election,” Abramson said. “If that be the case, we will need rapid funding.”
Abramson would not go into depth on the issue, saying it is pending litigation involving a component of the election system he oversees. He characterized his request as giving notice to the Senate in order to be duly diligent, not as a prediction of what the court would do. He reiterated, however, that he publicly opposed the ballot changes that have spawned this lawsuit when they were first proposed. Raymond Williams of the St. Croix Board of Elections also took pains to point out that the St. Croix board was not involved, and the St. Croix ballot is not in dispute.
“This issue clearly has absolutely nothing to do with the St. Croix board,” Williams said.
Sen. Ronald Russell said he was concerned about funding the budget request without holding someone responsible for the legal situation regarding the special election.
“It is unfortunate that elected officials could ignore the law and ignore advice and not live up to the responsibility they were charged with when elected,” Russell said. “Attempts to resolve it were met with belligerent defiance, setting a bad example. … I can’t just throw money at the boards of elections when bad decisions like this are going through.”
Sen. Liston Davis defended the election system.
“Since the issue was raised, what fundamental problems are there with the St. Thomas Board of Elections for which we should deny their budget?” Davis asked of Abramson.
“The board has no problems,” Abramson said. “As has been said, the elected board made a decision, it has been opposed and the legal process is underway as it should be.”
“Just because you oppose the war we are in now in Iraq doesn’t mean you stop the national budget,” Davis said. “The opposition is saying stop the budget process until we determine what is happening. Does your office have the authority to evaluate elected members of the boards?”
“Not at all,” Abramson said. “And I would not want it.”
Sen. James Weber asked Abramson how the V.I. election system is rated compared to others in the nation.
“I think we are in the top 10 nationwide,” Abramson said. “Of 20,000 election officials, ours are among the first 300 in the nation to be certified. … In voter turnout, we far exceed national standards, though that is not necessarily because of us at the election system.”
Sen. Carlton Dowe urged Abramson to move the St. Thomas elections office to a new location.
“This Garden Street thing won’t do,” Dowe said. “People can’t get there. What are you going to do to get out?”
Abramson had raised the issue himself in his opening testimony.
“The St. Thomas election system’s office is located in an inaccessible location,” Abramson said. “There is no parking and it provides for a terrible customer-service experience. The agency is in the process of securing a new location, but a government complex on St. Thomas would be the ideal situation.”
Responding to his question, Abramson assured Dowe they would move the St. Thomas office into a new location by next fiscal year.
The election system is requesting $1.4 million in general fund appropriations for its day-to-day operations. An additional $209,000 is requested for the two boards of elections, bringing the total budget under the purview of the election system to $1.6 million. This is an increase of $51,000, or 3.2 percent, over last year.
The modest increase is attributable to the increasing cost of supplies and to increased fringe-benefit costs, Abramson said.
Monday’s hearing was preliminary. The Senate will revisit the budget request and vote on it during upcoming budget hearings.
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