The St. Croix District Elections Board discussed plans for election reform and ways to deal with a perceived violation of a contract from the supplier of the territory’s voting machines, which, according to some, did not perform as expected, adding expense and delays to the 2014 general election.
The discussion took place Wednesday at a three-and-a-half hour meeting of the board.
The public has been encouraged to make suggestions about reform and so far comments have been received from former Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen and the League of Women Voters. Elections board members and staff met with at least one member of the Senate – Kenneth Gittens – to discuss revisions last week.
According to Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes, almost half of the V.I. Code chapters dealing with elections have been reviewed by staff and board members for corrections, additions and deletions. At this point, she said she is concerned the Legislature might not make changes in time for the next elections.
Board member Lisa Harris-Moorhead echoed Fawkes’s concern and said she has been trying for years to urge the Legislature to change and correct Title 18 of the V.I. Code. She said the law contradicts itself frequently because as changes have been made, the law was not rewritten.
“I have changes from 1997 that have still not been implemented. The public thinks we can change the law or influence the Legislature,” she said. “We as a board have a responsibility to the public to emphasize the most pressing issues.”
In the past, the board has discussed some of the changes they feel are needed, including revising the general elections ballot, the timing of primary elections to include military voters serving overseas, early voting, deadlines for filing candidacy and retaining independent legal counsel.
Board chairman Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal agreed that the St. Croix board should publicize its priorities so the Senate knows which to implement first with or without input from the St. Thomas/St. John board.
The other issue that drew heated discussion was dealing with the company, ES&S, which sold the territory voting machines that were used in the 2014 election. According to Elections, the machines did not perform as promised.
After the primary election, board members determined the machines read some votes incorrectly and did not tally cross-voting correctly. As a result, during the general election, voters were not allowed to scan their own ballots but handed them to poll watchers for processing. That procedure did not sit well with residents.
Since the November election, board members have been corresponding with ES&S to correct the mistake for which the company wants to be paid $300,000. Moorhead said threats of a lawsuit are not necessary but the board should not “namby-pamby” the request to retro-fit the machines without cost.
At a meeting Friday, the Joint V.I. Elections Board is scheduled to discuss the sixth version of a letter drafted by the St. Croix board to ES&S, but St. Croix board members could not agree to the points to be made or proper wording. De O’Neal suggested everyone study the material and be prepared to discuss and vote at the St. Thomas meeting Friday.
Other items discussed during Wednesday’s meeting were a new polling site, additional office space for meetings, and training sessions board members attended in Vail, Colorado and Fort Myers, Florida.
According to Fawkes, Sunshine Mall has agreed to rent space for voting in 2016 to replace the Charles H. Emmanuel Elementary School. Elections will need to arrange for private security to guard machines before the election and insurance during voting.
Fawkes also reported that possible boardroom space has been located in Sunny Isle for $1,600 a month. The 950-square-foot room is ADA compliant, unlike the current meeting room in the Elections System office, she said.
“I’m going to direct you to hurry the process. We don’t have to go six months. Do what ever you have to, to get this done,” de O’Neal said about the boardroom.
The board chair asked members to share experiences from attending courses that included classes in ethics in Colorado and Florida in what some have called “a junket.”
Raymond Williams said it was the first time he remembered as many members participating in what he called “significant training.” Moorhead said the accreditation course in Fort Myers was eight days, including Saturday and Sunday, and not “a junket.” Barbara Jackson-McIntosh commented that the class times were strictly enforced and included “attendance police.”
A member of the audience asked if the board plans to implement anything they learned from the classes, but her question went unanswered.
Administrative assistant, Terrell Alexandre reported 59 new voters were registered on St. Croix in the last two months and Fawkes said 4,795 old voters have been removed from the roster. Inactive voters have until August 31 to be reinstated. Another 2,515 voters were notified of the closure of their former polling sites at Charles H. Emmanuel Elementary School and St. Gerard Hall in Frederiksted.
The full board attended the meeting: de O’Neal, Moorhead, Jackson-McIntosh, Adelbert Bryan, Glenn Webster, Raymond Williams and Roland Moolenaar.