Gov. Kenneth Mapp approved legislation Friday clarifying a 2016 law unifying the territory’s boards of elections into a single board, delaying its effective date and paving the way for the April 8 special election for the vacant St. Thomas/St. John Senate seat.
Mapp also signed legislation appropriating $90,000 to carry out the special election and he acknowledged a Senate resolution establishing the officers, committees and rules of the 32nd Legislature.
The V.I. Legislature voted during a Feb. 21 session to amend the 2016 law. The territory’s two elections boards had raised concerns about the law, with some members arguing it effectively dissolved the boards without a real replacement until after 2018 elections.
A recent U.S. District Court opinion also suggested problems with the wording of the new law. That opinion concurred with a recent V.I. Supreme Court ruling that candidate Kevin Rodriquez, who ran and won a seat in 2016, was ineligible to run because he did not meet residency requirements.
The bill, requested by members of the Legislature’s minority coalition, would originally have just repealed the law, enacted in June of 2016, unifying the two boards into a single board. The boards would have simply reverted to their prior status, with a seven-member board in each district, which some minority members of the Legislature preferred.
But Attorney General Claude Walker urged senators to instead make minor changes to the law to resolve the difficulties while retaining a single, unified board, and senators amended the bill to do so before approving the measure.
Rodriquez came in sixth in November’s election to fill seven St. Thomas/St.John legislative seats and the St. Thomas/St. John Board of Elections certified his candidacy and the final vote.
But in December, the eighth-place candidate, Janelle Sarauw, joined by a campaign worker, sued in V.I. Superior Court to stop Rodriquez from being seated, arguing that Rodriquez had asserted in court documents filed in 2016 that he was a bona fide resident of Tennessee and therefore could not meet the three-year V.I. residency requirement set by V.I. law.
The V.I. Supreme Court determined that in his bankruptcy petition, Rodriquez swore under penalty of perjury that he lived in Tennessee and had not lived in another state anytime during the preceding three years. It applied the doctrine of “judicial estoppel,” saying that Rodriquez’s claim under oath in one court prevented him from claiming the opposite in another court.
Rodriquez took the case to U.S. District Court, which dismissed the case, leaving the V.I. Supreme Court opinion barring Rodriquez in place. Mapp then called a special election for the vacant seat.