Gordon Ackley, write-in GOP candidate for Congress, and the V.I. GOP jointly filed suit Friday in federal court to demand the V.I. Election System hold a GOP primary or simply place Ackley on the November ballot, according to a statement sent Friday by Dennis Lennox, spokesperson for Ackley and the V.I. GOP.
Ackley never filed a nominating petition prior to the statutory May 17 deadline for all candidates, but was chosen by the V.I. GOP to be its nominee for Congress at its June 11 convention on St. Thomas.
The suit alleges V.I. voters were disenfranchised because there was no primary.
“The actions of the defendants not only have the effect of violating the rights of Mr. Ackley and the Republican Party but also cast serious doubts on the ability of defendants to hold a fair and meaningful election in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” according to the complaint, filed in District Court on St. Thomas.
“The conduct on the part of the defendants has and continues to have the effect of violating the First Amendment and voting rights of citizens of the U.S. Virgin Islands," it continues.
The suit says, "May 17, 2016, was the deadline for individuals to submit nomination petitions to the Election System to have their names appear on the primary ballot for their registered political party. However, given the notice that the Republican Party gave the Board of Elections of the Party’s intention to nominate their candidates for public office at the Republican Party’s territorial convention on June 11, 2016 there was not a necessity for individuals to submit nomination petitions."
However, May 17 was the common deadline for all candidates to file nominating papers, set by formula in V.I. statute. It is not specific to primary candidates. Those not running in political parties also had that deadline. (See: List of 2016 Candidates Official – Unless and Until Court Rules Otherwise and V.I. Election Calendar in Related Links below.)
Filing nominating papers, with 25 petition signatures, is most of what a party member has to do to be on the November ballot, unless there are more party candidates than offices.
V.I. Code Title 18, section 359 says: "No party primary shall be conducted with regard to any public office unless the number of candidates of a particular political party who filed nomination petitions for nomination by such party for election to such public office is greater than the number of persons which such party may nominate therefor."
As Ackley is the only GOP candidate for that office, he would be running unopposed if a primary were held.
The V.I. GOP press release sent by Lennox also says the other V.I. GOP candidates nominated at the Republican Territorial Convention were Tim Daly, Vince Danet and Eloi George for the Legislature from the St. Thomas-St. John District; Robert Moorhead for the Legislature from the St. Croix District, Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal and Jevon Williams for the St. Croix Board of Elections, Lawrence Boschulte and Robert Max Schanfarber for the St. Thomas Board of Elections, and Marion Baptiste for the St. Croix Board of Elections.
Of those: Robert Moorhead, Lilliana Belardo de O’Neal, Jevon Williams, Lawrence Boschulte and Robert Max Schanfarber filed nomination papers prior to May 17 and are already approved to be on the General Election ballot as Republican candidates for office. St. Croix Board of Elections incumbent candidate Glenn Webster also filed before May 17 and is also on the General Election ballot as a Republican candidate, although he is not among those selected by the party’s June convention.
Ackley, Tim Daly, Vince Danet, Eloi George and Marion Baptiste are not approved to be on the ballot. (See: V.I. Election System Candidate Listings 2016 in Related Links below.)
The suit is asking the court to issue an order to either mandate a primary or directly place Ackley on the ballot.
Failing to file prior to deadlines or amass enough petition signatures occasionally throws a wrench into the plans of even long-time incumbent candidates. In 2012, for example, six-term Michigan Republican Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, of Lennox’s home state, was tossed off the primary ballot due to problems with his nominating petitions. Also in 2012, then-Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry was disqualified from the Virginia primary ballot for failing to get enough signatures. He sued and lost.
But sometimes courts have been sympathetic to some filing and petition errors. In 2014, 25-term Michigan Democrat Rep. John Conyers had problems with his nominating papers but a judge ordered him on the ballot, saying the failure to comply was the result of "good-faith mistakes."
No court date and no response to the suit had been posted to the online federal court docket as of 11 p.m. Friday.