After suspending a recount of general election ballots, the St. Croix Elections Board has arranged space at the Elections office to accommodate the public to observe the process, according to a Monday ruling by V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks.
The same judge, however, may order the recount halted again – depending on the outcome of a complaint from Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, also filed Monday.
Board members will continue the recount at 9 a.m. Friday.
The St. Croix Board of Elections agreed to recount ballots for Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Sen. Diane Capehart and Epiphane Joseph, Elections Board candidate, because each “has reason to believe and does believe that the records or copies of records made by the election officers at one or more polling places in such district are erroneous” – criteria for a recount according to the V.I. Code.
When the board began recounting votes last week, the public was blocked due to the small room and because several members “misinterpreted” the law. Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal, vice chair, told The Source she believed only the candidates or their representatives were to be allowed to watch the process.
Rivera-O’Reilly’s complaint alleges that the Board of Elections improperly counted certain ballots for Hansen by crediting her with write-in votes under 60 different names. Rivera-O’Reilly also charges that Hansen was not entitled to seek a recount because there is a difference between a “candidate” and persons who receive write-in votes according to law. She also claims after the board illegally agreed to Hansen’s request, they did not act upon it in the required time period.
“The board’s unlawful conduct was further tainted by its improper decision to change the method of counting the votes during the recount by agreeing that ballots with any mark for Hansen would be counted even if the ‘bubble’ on the ballot was not marked as required for other candidates, despite requiring such markings during the first count,” the complaint reads.
Rivera-O’Reilly claims “irreparable injury” because she would have asked for a recount of votes not oval marked, but that show the intention to vote for her. She is asking the court to force the Elections Board to stop “the illegal recount of votes for Hansen.”
Named in the complaint are Adelbert Bryan, board chair, Belardo de O’Neal, Rupert Ross, Glenn Webster, Lisa Harris-Moorhead, Raymond Williams, Roland Moolenaar and the V.I. Government.
Belardo de O’Neal confirmed she received a subpoena to appear in Judge Willocks’ court Dec.15 for a hearing to address Rivera-O’Reilly’s complaints and whether or not the recount will continue.
“He will have to decide if we count or don’t count,” O’Neal said. “If he tells us to stop, we stop. We’d be happy because everyone would rather listen to Christmas music than count.”
The recount must be completed before the senators are sworn in, according to Belardo de O’Neal. So far, walk-in, mail-in, absentee ballots and votes from two schools have been recounted – not even half of the estimated 25,000 ballots.
To accommodate spectators, the same two rooms used to process the Nov. 4 election will be used for the recount and there will be closed circuit television in both rooms in case there is an overflow.
“In the meantime, the board will continue counting tomorrow because of the order from Judge Willocks to make it public,” she said.
The board also may decide to count Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, depending on Willocks’ decision, they will continue or discontinue counting ballots.
“We were prepared for a challenge but not the judicial system bouncing us back and forth,” Belardo de O’Neal said. The “challenge” includes threats and verbal abuse since the election, she added.
She said she was speaking on behalf of the board, because Bryan refused to take part in the primary, general election or the recount.