Ballot creates possible confusion in St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections race
Published: November 2, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - As the territory's voting machines remain uncertified, in part because of a malfunctioning machine on St. Thomas, a new wrinkle in the ballot threatens to create confusion in the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections race.
That section of the ballot gives the following instructions to voters in English and Spanish: "District of St. Thomas - Select no more than 3" and "Resident of St. John - Select no more than 1."
A list of 10 candidates and a spot for a write-in candidate follow the instructions. However, the only candidate associated with a geographic location is Alecia Wells, an incumbent Board member who is in position two on the ballot. The fine print under her name reads "Independent - Independiente - Resident of St. John."
The remaining candidates are identified by name and political affiliation only, with no indication whether they are from St. Thomas or St. John.
When asked whether this might confuse voters, Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr. said Wells is the only candidate from St. John. When asked how voters are supposed to know this strictly from the language on the ballot, Abramson pointed to her unique designation as "Resident of St. John."
"If there were others, I guess instructions would have changed," he said.
Abramson also said the ballot instructions were "the board's" and pointed to a section of the law pertaining to ballots and ballot boxes.
"The Supervisor of Elections shall, prior to each primary and election, prepare the format of the ballot as it shall appear on the electronic voting machine in the form prescribed by this chapter under the direction of the District Board," the law states. "Instructions on each official ballot shall be printed in both the English language and the Spanish language."
Wells interpreted the ballot similarly to the way Abramson did. She reasoned that because she is the only candidate designated as a resident of St. John, voters would know the rest of the candidates are not from St. John.
But a voter hypothetically could choose three St. Thomas candidates and want to vote for anyone but Wells as the St. John candidate. If the voter did not realize that the fine print under Wells' name designates her as the only St. John candidate, the voter might then select a fourth St. Thomas candidate thinking the candidate is from St. John.
When asked about that scenario, Wells paused. She said she did not know what would happen to a ballot that recorded four votes for St. Thomas candidates.
Ideally, the ballot should have separated her out from the field of 10 to make a clearer distinction between the St. Thomas and St. John positions, she said. If voters have questions on Election Day, they should ask the presiding judge for help, Wells said.
Diane Magras, who is running for a seat on the board and has requested a federal audit of the Elections System, said the confusing instructions on the ballot came as no surprise.
"My take on that is it's yet another episode in their trying to undermine the election," she said. "It doesn't faze me that the ballot has the problems you mention. When you look at all of the problems, it's all geared toward voters not having transparency."
As for the malfunctioning machine, which during testing improperly counted votes in the Board of Elections race, Abramson called into question previous comments by board member Lawrence Boschulte, who said the Elections Supervisor is responsible for certifying the machines.
Abramson pointed to a section of the law that says the Elections Supervisor "shall have the electronic voting machines tested to ascertain that the equipment will correctly count the votes cast for all offices and on all measures." It also states "each member of the board shall certify as to the accuracy of the test. For the test, the board of elections may designate one member to represent it."
Wells said the machine had not been re-tested as of Thursday. She said as soon as that happens, the board or its designee can certify the machine.
If that does not happen before Tuesday, Wells endorsed a suggestion from Boschulte that voters can use paper ballots for the Board of Elections race and use either electronic or paper ballots for the rest of the races.
- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email email@example.com.