2022 is expected to be an active year for voters in the Virgin Islands. Elections officials met Tuesday to discuss how to best guide those running for office and those wishing to cast ballots through the process.
In addition to the races for governor, delegate to Congress, local lawmakers and elected board members, voters will choose delegates to serve in the territory’s Sixth Constitutional Convention in a separate special election. A bill to establish the convention, Bill No. 34-0153, is still making its way through the Legislature. Senators Jeanette Sarauw and Genevieve Whitaker are co-sponsors of the bill.
During Tuesday’s virtual meeting, Board of Elections Chairman Raymond Williams and Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes told board members they want to send suggested language for lawmakers to add to the bill.
Fawkes said she wants to remind those seeking public office that by law the names of those wishing to serve at the convention cannot appear on any other ballot in the current election cycle. She said she will bring the issue to the attention of the Legislature and clarify whether the language in Bill No. 34-0153 will stipulate that those seeking to serve as delegates to the convention may also run for election in another capacity.
Elections officials also discussed the cost of carrying out the special election. A provision in the bill calls for an appropriation to cover convention-related expenses.
Other pre-election considerations were presented to board members as part of the supervisor’s report. “We need to close polling places in both districts of those schools which are condemned or permanently closed. This will enable us to register voters in permanent polling sites and reduce the number of provisional ballots,” Fawkes said.
During a previous board meeting held in July, members identified some sites for elimination, including:
St. Croix – Evelyn Williams Elementary School, Alexander Henderson School, Elena Christian Junior High School, Alfredo Andrews Elementary School, JFK Terrace, and Florence Williams Library;
St. Thomas – Winston Raymo Recreation Center, Joseph Gomez Elementary School, Oswald Harris Court, Addelita Cancryn Junior High School, Gladys Abraham Elementary School, Joseph Sibilly Elementary School, and Ulla Muller Elementary School;
St. John – Guy Benjamin Elementary School
Fawkes said 14 of the polling sites were closed on recommendations by the federal government for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She also encouraged board members to participate in creating a list of names for voting center sites, used territorywide, in place of former polling places.
Elections board member Shakima Jones, who also serves as the St. John Administrator, asked if the Sprung building set up at the old Benjamin School site in Coral Bay could be used as a polling place. Sprung buildings were brought in to serve as temporary structures, for use on storm-damaged school campuses. The Sprung company makes tension fabric structures designed to be quickly set up.
Board member Harriet Mercer asked if closing polling places would lead to the increased use of absentee ballots. Not necessarily, said Deputy Elections Supervisor Kevermae Douglas.
Because the election season moves quickly and preparations must be made in advance, Williams said he might call an emergency meeting to address the matter.
“The board should really be involved in the process,” said St. Croix board member Barbara McIntosh.
Fawkes is also asking the Board of Elections to decide the best way to classify voters who have not cast ballots over the past three election cycles. Fawkes proposes changing their status from active to inactive. The supervisor’s report included ways to notify voters about a change in status, and steps they can take if they wish to vote this year.
Members discussed the voting-related topics and asked questions of the elections system staff, but made no motions or voted on those particular topics raised in Tuesday’s meeting.