Boards of Elections ask Senate for $900,000 more, offer few details about how money would be used
Published: August 29, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - At a budget hearing Wednesday before the Senate Finance Committee, members of the St. Thomas and St. Croix District Boards of Elections requested $741,266 more than the governor's Fiscal Year 2014 recommendations to bring the Elections System into compliance with federal mandates and legislation, but they had little testimony to offer about the specifics behind the requests.
During the budget hearing, St. Thomas board member Arturo Watlington Jr. and St. Croix board member Adelbert Bryan also discussed the issuance of a draft audit report from the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of the Inspector General to certain board members and newly appointed Elections Supervisor Carolyn Fawkes without disclosing any of the findings or details.
Watlington read a paragraph of the draft report stating that, as it is a draft report and not a conclusive report, it is not disclosable to the public. The report contains 20 recommendations, many of which pertain to the office of the Elections supervisor, and calls for further investigation with respect to the use of the Voter Identification and Registration Fund, which is administered solely by the Elections supervisor, Watlington said.
Watlington said the St. Thomas Board of Elections requests $413,236 for FY 2014, and Bryan said the St. Croix Board of Elections requests $477,337 for FY 2014.
These requests would be in addition to a recommended appropriation by the governor for the office of the Elections Supervisor of $1.2 million, the board members said.
These requests also far outstrip the governor's recommendations of $71,489 for the St. Thomas-St. John board and $77,818 for the St. Croix board, according to a Post-Audit analysis.
According to the board members, the extra money is needed to meet compliance mandates requiring the Elections System to make all facilities and polling sites compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Also, at least $50,000 is needed for training and educating the public in the use of the newly purchased DS 200 optical scan machines, which will make the next election completely reliant on paper ballots, Watlington testified.
Watlington said he anticipates that the Elections System will incur much more expense during the next year, as it has to purchase a bigger volume of paper and pay more for the printing of paper ballots as part of the implementation of the new voting system.
Beyond Watlington's verbal testimony, neither he nor Bryan gave the Finance Committee a detailed budget presentation outlining FY 2014 expenditures or why the district boards are asking for appropriations totaling almost $900,000.
Joint Board Chairwoman Alecia Wells did not attend the hearing. A letter explaining her absence to attend an American Legion Auxiliary Conference on behalf of her late husband was read into the record.
In the letter, Wells defended the selection of the DS 200 machines and mentioned the relocation of the Elections office on St. Thomas from Crystal Gade to a space in Lockhart Gardens so as to be ADA compliant.
Bryan expressed frustration during his testimony about the relationship between the Office of Management and Budget and the Elections System, citing concerns about OMB's inability to account fully for $2 million in federal funds tied to the Help America Vote Act.
"We are being financially violated by the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Finance. We are treated like a child getting his weekly allowance to buy candy and soda in his parent's house," Bryan said. "The Board of Elections is an independent elected government agency, not an executive department. Over $2 million of the Election Fund is not properly accounted for or even held in the accounts established by HAVA 2002."
Bryan said after the hearing that the Office of Management and Budget has said that $90,000 in federal funds earmarked to improve the V.I. Elections System has been spent, and another $25,000 is being held in abeyance.
"The money is supposed to be used for the purchase of machines and to improve the Elections System to bring it into compliance," Bryan said. "They have said they want to use the money to cover budget shortfalls, but the money was not intended for that purpose."
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.