Virgin Islanders throughout the territory were angry and frustrated, not just with last-minute ballot and voting machine problems, but with court cases and melee and an unresponsive government, when they spoke with the Source on Monday, the day before the election.
Many voters on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John said they were concerned about the Joint Boards of Elections’ decision to have board members run the ballots through, instead of voters. But others said they were more concerned about all the disputes and the last minute nature of the decision, than with the decision itself. And others were not particularly interested or concerned with the voting procedures, but spoke about community problems and a need for better representation.
In a trial run of the new tabulating machines, purchased by the territory after St. Croix Elections Board Chairman Adelbert Bryan waged a campaign to get rid of the territory’s previous machines, the brand new ES&S ballot tabulators counted votes in a surprising way, apparently due to the unique V.I. electoral system where senators vie to be the top seven vote getters in their district.
If, for example, a voter selected the Democratic Party symbol then selects an independent senatorial candidate, the independent senator’s vote would be recorded, but the votes for all seven of the Democratic senators would be voided. And the machine does not reject the ballot, but accepts it as though nothing is wrong.
"They should not have waited until two days before the election to tell people what they were doing with the ballots," said Lariel Gerard of St. Croix, speaking outside at Sunny Isles Shopping Center. "People have the expectation of using the new ES&S machines and are not going to be happy to let someone else put their ballot in," Gerard said.
Gerard also said the amount of fighting and controversy is getting out of hand. "There have been so many court cases this year. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life," he said.
St. Croix resident Scott Liburd said, "They are trying to steal the election again. I hear St. Thomas wants to count the early voting ballots Wednesday and that is against the law," he added.
Paul James of St. Croix was less concerned about the ballot issue, saying voters needed to be responsible for their own vote.
"I don’t see a problem so long as you vote appropriately," James said. "Just don’t push a symbol and try to vote by party. Fill it out for the candidates you want and, if you want to vote for one party, don’t vote for anyone else. It is common sense," James said.
St. Croix resident Bruno Lloyd was not concerned about balloting procedures, but about what government should be doing.
"We need a new complex for our young athletes. Our kids are being lost and nobody seems to care," Lloyd said. "The police need cameras in their vehicles. We need more federal officers to clean up our port checkpoints and cut down on guns coming in," he said.
On St. Thomas, one person who said she did not want to give her name, said she was concerned that with all the lawsuits filed in the past month, along with all the "confusion about the machines," voters are not going to know what to do when they get to the polls Tuesday.
"I have been reading everything about this that comes up in the papers but I am still confused about what is happening," she said. "We’re back to paper ballots now? I’m not sure that it was clearly explained how that is going to work when people go in there to vote and I know from talking to other people that they are not sure either. And there’s always a big deal afterward about fraud. With all these changes in procedures, they haven’t explained to the public about security or how they plan to safeguard against any of that; this is a big election and people want to know."
Another resident said that while she understands that this is a "high-stakes" election, she was still disappointed in "the conduct" of various board members and how many "changes came down at the last minute."
"I know some of them personally, and there are some that I trust," said the woman who asked to remain unidentified. "But they always seem to be quarreling, there’s always police called for someone or some other thing happens and then, by the end of the meeting, they end up doing nothing. Now there are all these questions about who people can vote for, if they can vote for their party, what happens now that St. Croix’s ballots have been replaced, and everyone is just tired. It’s not the first election we have had; they should know how to do this by now."
Two men in the line at First Bank on Monday afternoon were adamant they were not going to vote. “I’m tired of the crap,” said C. Andrews, a St. Thomas resident. “We shouldn’t have 15 senators,” he said.
The other more elderly man, who did not give his name, said there was no way he was going to vote.
However, after a 10-minute conversation, both men said they were going to “sleep on it,” and might consider bullet voting on Tuesday.
St. John voter Albert Willis said he has several concerns about Tuesday’s election. For starters, he worries that the confusion at Board of Elections meetings will set the tone.
“What’s to say the rest of the election won’t be a fiasco,” Willis said. He’s unhappy about having to turn over his ballot to an elections worker for scanning.
“My ballot is my business and I don’t think they need to handle it,” he said. Beyond that, he questioned why in 2014 the territory is even using paper ballots.
“This is the 21st century and we can do better than that,” he said.
St. John resident Audrey Penn agreed using paper ballots is a step backward.
She was a bit unsure about the scanning of paper ballots by an election worker but said, if she can see it done, it would be okay.
Asked if the V.I. Department of Justice was looking into voter concerns about the change in procedures, Attorney General Vincent Frazer said Monday that the decision was under the purview of the Joint Boards of Elections, whether popular or not.
"If we get complaints we look into the complaints and we have gotten just that general complaint that you are hearing about," Frazer said. "But the complaint of residents as to not being able to feed the ballot into the machine, we understand the complaints, but the board has made its policy decision of how they are going to handle the ballots. There is nothing there for us to investigate. We understand why they are doing it," he said.
Meanwhile, controversies aside, the election system is geared up and ready to go, Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes said Monday evening.
"The judges came in and were sworn in. We have the machines ready on St. Croix. I just got off the phone with St. Thomas and they have their machines out, security is there and we are prepared to execute an election tomorrow morning," Fawkes said in a short telephone conversations.
Voters will fill out their ballots, which will go into the bin portion of the ES&S machines, she said. After the polls close at 7 p.m. the boards will take them out and divide the ballots into groups, scanning all the ballots without a party symbol vote into the machine, then counting the party line votes by hand, Fawkes said.
"We project we will have some results from smaller polling places in two hours or so after the polls close," Fawkes said. "But with larger polling places, with a 1,000 or more voters, it will take a little longer. But by 9 or 9:30 (p.m.) we should start seeing some results," she said.
While some ballots must be hand counted, the board’s goal is to count all the ballots Tuesday night, she said. "We will get unofficial results Tuesday night," she said, but added that there would still be absentee ballots to count and the official results would not be finalized right away.