Published: November 9, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - Both Boards of Elections in the Virgin Islands have run afoul of the V.I. Code and board policies in the wake of Tuesday's general election, from which paper ballots are still being tallied.
The V.I. Code requires the boards to count the votes for each candidate within a day of receiving ballot materials from the polling places: "Each board of elections, after having received all statements, books, lists, papers, vouchers, ballots, ballot boxes and district register from each polling district and polling place in its district, shall convene not later than one day following the receipt thereof and determine the total number of votes cast in the election district for each candidate."
The law states that the boards must convene no later than three days after receiving the aforementioned materials to tally votes for the Board of Education and Board of Elections races.
On Tuesday, a majority of the votes from all races were cast on electronic machines, and results from those ballots were available within hours of the polls closing.
However, widespread distrust of the machines led to a spike in the use of paper ballots - more than 4,500 territorywide - that has slowed the vote count and, in effect, hampered the boards' abilities to comply with the law.
Today marks the third day since the boards received all the ballots from the polling sites Tuesday night.
The St. Thomas-St. John Board hopes to finish counting the Senate races by the end of the day today before moving on to other races, according to board member Lorna Thomas.
The St. Croix Board is scheduled to begin counting its 2,781 paper ballots today.
Thomas, who helped on Thursday to oversee her board's tally of about 600 ballots in the Senate race, said the law makes little sense in the context of the territory's current paper ballots, which can be counted only by hand.
"Literally it would have been impossible to follow," Thomas said when asked about the law. "I don't see how we could have done that."
Thomas said the board should have new voting machines by the 2014 elections that can tally paper ballots automatically.
When asked about enforcing the section of the law cited above, V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer said he "would have to look at that and see."
The boards' handling of the paper ballots also has brought them into conflict with a Board of Elections policy.
Joint Board of Elections Chairman Rupert Ross Jr. said Thursday that the joint board passed a policy earlier this year requiring the boards to begin counting any paper ballots the night of the election. He said the policy never was put into writing, but it may exist in some form in minutes from the meeting. He also said the policy lacked an enforcement mechanism.
Ross said the intent of the policy, which passed by a 6-5 vote, was to ensure that processing of the paper ballots began as soon as possible. The sooner the counting begins, the easier it is to comply with another section of the law that requires the boards to certify a final vote count within 10 days of an election, Ross reasoned.
The certification deadline already was weighing on the mind of Thomas, who pointed out the St. Thomas-St. John Board has yet to touch locked ballot boxes containing absentee ballots and walk-in votes.
Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr. has said the district processed 412 walk-in ballots and mailed 331 absentee ballots.
But Thomas was optimistic that the board was gaining momentum after a troubled start.
"Tempers were a little tight yesterday, but everyone's happy today," Thomas said. "The public was much quieter and accommodating today, and we appreciated them allowing the judges to do their jobs."
Candidate Lawrence Olive, who earned 304 paper-ballot votes on Thursday to bump Lisa Williams from ninth place in the Senate race, said he told his supporters to use the paper ballots as a more reliable - and legal - alternative to the electronic machines.
"If the trend continues, I don't see no reason why I will not be in the top seven," Olive said. "It just goes to show you that the paper ballot is the true count."
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.