St. Croix Board of Elections Accomplishes Little Amidst Conflicts

The St. Croix Board of Elections met Wednesday morning in the V.I. Election System offices in Sunny Isles to discuss the upcoming November general election; however, ongoing conflicts forced the board to give cursory attention to the agenda, deciding on no issues conclusively or achieving little forward motion on many of the upcoming election topics.

After the call to order and introductions of board members and guests, discussion moved through the agenda to cover the topics related to the upcoming general election scheduled Nov. 4, 2014. Topics for discussion included election certification, voter registration, ballot formatting and content, write-in certification and logistics issues for disability access for all polling locations.

However, due to differences of opinions and overlapping discussion that made determining the focus and outcome of issues difficult, the board voted to table some topics for further discussion at a later date. One budget item that was addressed, though to a half-empty boardroom, was member Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal’s summary of a report on certification and its finding.

The prevailing theme during the long, contentious meeting was one of frustration. There was an extensive argument between Chairman Adelbert Bryan and member Raymond Williams covering many ballot issues from the machines being used to the security for voting equipment and sites; disagreements about spacing of type and characters and colors on the ballot; as well as write-in specifics for names and “voter intent” with the new machines [see related links].

The Joint Board of Elections selected a voting machine approved by the Legislature and Gov. John deJongh Jr. that are scheduled to be used for the upcoming general election.

Information provided by Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes was presented regarding the machines, ballots and specifics of issues raised; however, Bryan repeatedly interrupted Fawkes and Deputy Supervisor Genevieve Whittaker, slowing the progress of discussion to a standstill at many points in the proceedings.

The board did not discuss the V.I. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen could not run. Nor was there discussion of Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s decision Wednesday to pardon Hansen.

The sitting senator running for reelection was convicted in 2009 of three counts of willful failure to file tax returns. Voters on St. Croix returned her to the Senate in 2011. The Organic Act of 1954 forbids anyone on parole or probation for a felony or for a conviction of "a crime of moral turpitude" from exercising the right to vote, or run for office.

All the court and administrative hearings to date on Hansen’s eligibility have hinged upon whether her convictions amounted to crimes of moral turpitude.

This most recent challenge to Hansen’s candidacy was the third since her conviction in 2009.

In 2011 the St. Croix Board of Elections determined Hansen to be eligible.

In 2012 the V.I. Action Group unsuccessfully again sought to have her declared ineligible, but the V.I. supervisor of elections and V.I. Superior Court both ruled in Hansen’s favor, citing similar reasons and the absence of any legal authority saying her convictions amounted specifically to "moral turpitude."

This year Bryan asked Fawkes to review Hansen’s nomination papers for the 2014 senatorial election. Fawkes determined Hansen was qualified. Bryan then petitioned the Superior Court, saying Fawkes’ determination was in error, citing Hansen’s three misdemeanor convictions as "crimes involving moral turpitude."

Bryan’s spring attempts to have Hansen removed from the ballot resulted in a court proceeding, which culminated in last week’s ruling by the V.I. Supreme Court in an opinion [see related links] written by Chief Justice Rhys S. Hodge, that ruled her misdemeanor convictions did constitute moral turpitude, under the grounds that her actions were “willful” and ordered her name removed from the ballot. Her attorney immediately applied for relief to the governor, asking for a pardon.

On Wednesday, deJongh Jr. pardoned Hansen for her 2009 conviction, thus opening the door for the senator to appear on the general election ballot. After consulting with Attorney General Vincent Frazer regarding the legal issues, deJongh issued the pardon. [see related links]

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