Unified Elections Board Moves Forward in Senate

There will be a single board of elections with 14 members – seven from each V.I. district – if legislation approved in the Rules and Judiciary Committee on Thursday is approved by the full Senate. Versions of the bill proposed by Sen. Kenneth Gittens have been considered in committee twice this year. (See Related Links below)

Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal, chairwoman of the St. Croix Board of Elections, said the St. Croix board did not endorse a single board, as she said the last time the bill was considered.

Marvin Forbes of the voting rights and election reform advocacy organization V.I. Action Group testified in support of a unitary board, as he did previously as well.

Senators discussed whether the board should be smaller or larger, with Gittens saying he preferred a smaller board, but that other senators wanted a larger board. They also discussed how to establish a quorum, settling on a simple majority, rejecting the idea of requiring a certain number of members per district.

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When it was last considered by the Rules Committee, the bill called for a single nine-member board, with no more than two members belonging to any one political party, or belonging to no party, from either district. An amendment, offered by Sen. Jean Forde on Thursday, increased the number of members to 14, with seven members per district. The amendment also increased the number of members allowed from any one political party or from no party to four per district.

In practice, because the Democratic Party is supported by many more voters than any other territorial party, the provision is likely to mean four members in each district be a Democrat, and the remaining three seats per district could be filled by members of the Independent Citizens Movement, the Republican Party or non-aligned individuals.

The quotas would make it likely that candidates of a popular party would lose election to the board despite receiving more votes than candidates of less popular political parties who received fewer votes.

The bill also would increase stipends to board members during election counts and recounts from $85 to $125 per day for members and from $100 to $150 for the board chair.

The committee also approved another elections-related bill from Gittens that would clarify V.I. law to explicitly state that a voter must be domiciled in the USVI to register to vote here, and to define domicile. According to the bill, a person can have only one domicile for voting purposes, and it is the place where a person habitually resides when not called elsewhere to work or for some temporary purpose.

Both measures were sent on for a final vote on the Senate floor, with Gittens, Forde, Sens. Novelle Francis, Justin Harrigan and Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly voting yes. Sens. Neville James and Janette Millin Young were absent.

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