In the wake of a federal audit that showed more than a decade of financial mismanagement within the Office of the Supervisor of Elections, St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections board members looked Thursday to put in place some controls that would help keep tabs on the system’s money.
During its monthly meeting on St. Thomas, the board focused its attention on who has access to the system’s Voter ID and Registration Fund, an account that is mostly used to hold money paid to Elections for duplicate voter registration cards. Only former Elections Supervisor John Abramson was a signatory to the fund, and no one else in the office could say how or when the money was withdrawn, or how it was used, board members said.
"The audit says that pages were missing from the account statements,” district board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. said.
“In some months, there were no statements at all, and in this office, no one can tell you anything about this fund, while the person, by law, that operated this fund is now retired and has no duty to tell us what happened, why it happened and how it happened,” Watlington said of Abramson. "And it continued like this for 12 years."
The account is not maintained by the Department of Finance, like other government funds, but is a regular Banco Popular checking account, board members said.
Watlington added that it was now the board’s responsibility to come up with a policy to make sure "what happens in the audit never happens again." There needs to be a policy in place where a supervisor or deputy signs any check from the account, along with a semiannual or biannual audit or report showing what money was deposited and how it was used, he added.
District board members voted to recommend to the Joint Board of Elections that a policy be put in place governing the use of the funds.
The audit was performed by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General on behalf of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, to document how funds awarded to the Virgin Islands under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 were spent.
The Election System received the audit in August and responded Sept. 30, according to current Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes. The EAC published the report during the first week of November.
"Our audit revealed a lack of basic internal controls at the … Office of the Supervisor of Elections," wrote Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall in a letter to the EAC summarizing the audit’s conclusions. "This environment has led to the mismanagement and poor administration of HAVA funds.”
“Our findings included deficiencies in payroll and procurement, internal controls and property management, as well as inaccurate and late financial reporting and unreported program income. We also found that ESVI did not meet all of HAVA’s administrative requirements," Kendall said.
During Thursday’s meeting, board members said any new policy would help safeguard against fraud on the account. Meanwhile, the board also said that the policy should require the system to create a daily log of deposits made into the fund.
In other news, board members briefly discussed the pending lawsuit filed against the district board by member Wilma Marsh Monsanto, who was suspended from participating in three of the board’s monthly meetings. The suspension finished last month, but Marsh Monsanto has been challenging the decision and a court hearing on the matter is scheduled for Friday morning.