Compelled by a judge’s ruling to include the election of Democratic Party officers in the upcoming August primary, Joint Elections Board members voted Thursday to make petitions for candidates available from Friday to 5 p.m. July 1.
V.I. Superior Court Judge Douglas Brady submitted his ruling Monday, and Joint Board members acted quickly to comply. The lawsuit against the Joint Board, submitted by Democratic Party members, was filed after the Joint Board’s May 18 decision to end their traditional practice of including party officer elections. In court, members contended that the V.I. Code allows the board to “certify the process used by any political party to select officers and candidates for public office,” but Brady said in his ruling that this provision goes against another section of the Code that “explicitly” provides for the board not only to certify but to actually run the party officer elections.
Joint Board members decided Thursday not to appeal the ruling, but to make available petitions starting Friday. Board member Larry Boschulte also moved that only half of the ballots used in the 2014 primary for party offices be printed, that the ballots be printed at Property and Procurement, that there be no casting of the lots, and that the candidate numbers be distributed based on the order of each petition filed.
While the Joint Board approved the motion, St. Croix board member Liliana Belardo de O’Neal said she was concerned about the fate of the Republican Party and its candidates.
“When the Republicans came here to get papers for party officers, we were denied like the others were denied,” she said. “If they would have given those out, we would have had the signatures needed, all the things needed, and I think because of this ruling, the Republican Party will be affected and we need to know how we are going to deal with this opinion. Is the board going to accept what we did at the convention on St. Thomas, or are we going to have to go back to court?”
Some board members said the Republicans’ concern was “not the same issue,” but Belardo de O’Neal and Boschulte said party might reconsider its legal options.
In other action, the Joint Board voted to extend its time to respond to a U.S. government settlement agreement and report on the compliance of local polling places to the requirements of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The V.I. Justice Department received the settlement agreement this week from the U.S. Attorney’s office and detailed a number of changes that need to be made at V.I. schools that double during elections as polling places.
While board members said that efforts have been made in past years to make the schools more handicap accessible, some also said that it is the responsibility of the local Education Department to make the changes, including ramps, cones, and proper signs.
Board member Alecia Wells also said that the board is working with old information from the department about each site, and the board, after calling its attorney Kim Salsbury, voted to extend the deadline to respond to the settlement from July 1 to July 13, so that it could get some up to date details.
The board will also submit a list of new polling sites to Salsbury as she works to respond to the settlement agreement.