One V.I. Board of Elections candidate could win a seat with as few as one vote while another candidate who received many thousands of votes would lose, if a bill sent out of the Rules and Judiciary Committee is enacted into law. The full Senate still has to weigh in on the measure.
The bill [31-0267] sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Gittens would also merge the existing district boards of elections into a single board that governs both districts and increase stipends during election counts and recounts from $85 to $125 per day for members and from $100 to $150 for the board chair.
As originally written, the bill would have created a single 14-member board and limited who one can vote for by saying "(n)o more than four members of the same political party may represent a district, including individuals who are not affiliated with any political party."
Gittens offered an amendment Wednesday, saying the single board would have nine members, with three elected from St. Thomas; one elected from St. John; four elected from St. Croix and one elected territorywide, who can be a resident of either district.
Gittens’ amendment also requires that "no more than two members of the same political party" may represent a district, including nonpartisan candidates.
This restriction could result in candidates who received only a handful of votes being declared "winners" while other candidates who had the support of thousands more V.I. voters than them would "lose" and not receive a seat on the board.
Taking actual recent vote tallies as an example: In 2014, five candidates ran for St. Croix board seats. Unaligned candidate Adelbert Bryan received 4,898 votes; Democrat Rupert Ross received 4,552; Democrat Barbara Jackson-McIntosh received 4,441; Democrat Raymond Williams received 4,342 and ICM candidate Epiphane "Joe" Joseph received 2,033.
The bill and amendment keep the existing staggered terms with either three or four St. Croix candidates up for election every two years. To keep it simple, say all four seats are open. Then the top three vote-getters would be seated: Bryan, Ross and Jackson-McIntosh. But only two Democrats could be seated, so Joseph, with 2,033 voters wishing to see him represent St. Croix on the board, would have "won" and Williams, who was the chosen candidate of 4,342 voters, would have "lost."
That would be the result using the actual 2,014 vote tallies. But a less popular non-Democrat candidate would still "win" with even one vote, even if the Democrat received 10,000 votes. If another party’s candidates were more popular, the effect would reverse, "electing" less popular Democrats instead of more popular ICM, unaligned or Republican candidates. The mathematical effect of the partisan limitation is to seat less popular candidates over those who V.I. voters actually vote for. This effect was not discussed at length during the hearing.
Gittens said the goal of the measure was for the territory to have a single, unified elections board, so that there would be unified policies and procedures throughout the territory. He pointed to controversy surrounding different ballot counting procedures in each district and long delays in counting ballots in the 2014 election.
He also said the unified board should be smaller than the existing joint boards of election, saying the territory’s was among the largest and a reduced size may streamline its actions.
"When you look at it across the nation, you see membership of three to six. The most I’ve seen was 11. And when you look at those states, their (population) numbers far exceed our numbers here," Gittens said.
St. Croix Board of Elections Member Raymond Williams objected to the partisan limit on the board. "I don’t see how that is okay under the constitution," Williams said.
Voting for the amendment and the bill as amended were Gittens, Sens. Jean Forde, Novelle Francis Jr. and Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly. Voting no were Sens. Neville James, Justin Harrigan and Janette Millin Young.
The committee voted to hold two other election reform bills, affecting party symbol voting and the operation of party primaries, pending more deliberation.