V.I. voters will have the right to vote with paper ballots in elections and starting in 2014, political parties will have to run and pay for their own primary or caucus elections if a bill passed by the V.I. Legislature Friday is signed into law.
The bill before the Legislature Friday would have also removed the current requirement that candidates for office take a leave of absence from government employment during the election campaign. But the Legislature approved an amendment from Sen. Louis Patrick Hill removing that requirement.
Many of the senators said they supported paper ballots because voters were demanding them, but that the voting machines in use were perfectly fine.
"I have no problems with the machines we have been using however we must respect the will of the masses," said Sen. Sammuel Sanes.
"I am in support of people wanting to use paper ballots," said James, the bill’s primary sponsor. "I will also let the public know when I go to vote this year and years forward I will be using the machine. … Some of you may believe this started in 2010, but this actually started in 2008 where someone successfully elected to the Constitutional Convention then sought election to office for senator and lost," James said, referring to Board of Elections Member Adelbert Bryan. "I would be a hypocrite to knock the same process that got me elected, but if people want paper ballots I support that," he said.
Sen. Louis Patrick Hill took a similar perspective, but ultimately was the one senator to vote nay on the bill.
"A senator (Bryan) who had been in here forever lost an election and that is the cause of this whole thing," Hill said. "The same person who is the main advocate for this now, in all the years he was in office, he never moved to have paper ballots?" Hill said.
Sen. Craig Barshinger objected to a passage of the bill that required all ballots to be counted the night of the election, saying it would be impossible to carry out if there were a significant number of paper ballots. Barshinger offered an amendment, which was approved, to say that counting must start the night of the election.
A bill from Sen. Janette Millin-Young to move partisan primary elections up a month, to the first Saturday in August, also got the thumbs up from the Legislature. The measure is necessary to comply with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which requires absentee ballots be transmitted at least 45 days before the general election.
The body approved an amendment from Sen. Carlton "Ital" Dowe appropriating $150,000 from roughly $5 million currently in the St. John Capital Improvement Fund to help conduct the 2012 primary election. Barshinger objected, saying it was inappropriate to tap a St. John fund for the entire territory without at least having a hearing to discuss it and let St. Johnians weigh in. The amendment was approved by the body.
Voting for the bill as amended were: Dowe, Hill, Sanes, Millin-Young, Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone, Ronald Russell, Usie Richards, Patrick Sprauve, Alvin Williams and Janette Millin-Young. Voting nay were Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Celestino White and Terrence "Positive" Nelson. Barshinger abstained. Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly was absent.