Abramson announces he will retire

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ST. THOMAS - As the territory's new Board of Elections members were sworn into office Friday, they learned that one of their first major undertakings will be to replace the Virgin Islands' veteran top elections official.

Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr. sent the Joint Board of Elections a letter Dec. 31 stating his intention to retire at the end of May.

"It has been a rewarding experience working with the staff, the management team and the various boards," Abramson wrote. "I would like to thank the Joint Board of Election for giving me the opportunity to serve as Supervisor of Elections."

Abramson has run the V.I. Election System for almost two decades and was awarded a new eight-year contract in August 2011.

The letter contains no specific reason for Abramson's decision.

St. Thomas-St. John Board Secretary Alecia Wells said the St. Thomas-St. John Board was not notified of this development until Friday.

As to whether Abramson's decision might be related to an ongoing federal audit of a decade's worth of the Election System's finances and expenditures, Wells said, "I have no idea. You need to call John and ask him that."

Neither Abramson nor Joint Board Chairman Rupert Ross Jr. returned calls for this story.

St. Thomas-St. John Board member Lawrence Boschulte said he did not think Abramson's decision was related to the audit but instead was motivated by the politics of his new bosses on the Joint Board.

"He knew the votes weren't there for him any more," Boschulte said. "The support is not there."

Abramson, both Boards of Elections and the entire V.I. Election System faced escalating criticism throughout the 2012 election cycle, culminating in a federal lawsuit seeking the decertification of the 2012 election results. The case so far has run into legal roadblocks but it was still pending in court as of Sunday.

The Joint Board last solicited applications to replace Abramson in 2011 before ultimately deciding in a split vote to award him a new contract. At the end of that process, Boschulte, St. Croix Board member Adelbert Bryan and St. Thomas-St. John Board member Wilma Marsh-Monsanto voted against the contract extension.

Boschulte won re-election in 2012, and Bryan on Friday was selected as the new chairman of the St. Croix Board. Several other newly elected board members have said they intend to set the Election System in a new direction; some specifically mentioned the Elections supervisor as one area that needed change.

Abramson aside, Wells said the new St. Thomas-St. John Board faces a "big chore" in restoring integrity to the image of the Elections System.

"We want to make sure the image that has been tarnished by some people is revitalized, and some persons will see that we're doing a good job," Wells said.

After Friday's organizational meeting, the new St. Thomas-St. John Board will be headed by Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr., who did not return a call for this story. Harry Daniel will serve as vice chairman, and Wells will be the secretary.

Wells and Boschulte both said the new board also needs to revisit the issue of electronic voting machines. At the last Joint Board meeting, confusion existed about whether the machines the board has agreed to purchase for the 2014 election cycle are federally certified - a major point of contention from those who are challenging the legitimacy of the 2012 election.

Looking ahead to the 2014 election cycle, which will include a gubernatorial election, Boschulte urged the board to start taking action soon.

"If certain things are not done within the first few months, between April and October, it's over," he said.

- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email lmattei@dailynews.vi.

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