Elections Board backs supervisor's call on complaint

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ST. CROIX - The Joint Board of Elections on Tuesday voted to uphold Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes' decision that Basil Ottley Jr. is an eligible candidate for lieutenant governor, after a challenge from another political team.

Gubernatorial candidate Moleto Smith Jr. and his running mate, Hubert Frederick, wrote to Fawkes and the Elections boards earlier this month, questioning whether Ottley - who is running for lieutenant governor on Donna Christensen's ticket - had met the residency requirements to be a candidate.

Fawkes responded to the challenge in a letter, saying that the Elections System had reviewed the nomination petition for the Christensen-Ottley ticket as it does with all candidates and found that Ottley met the qualifications.

She also noted in the letter that the appeal was not filed in a timely manner.

The candidates had five days after the May deadline for filing nomination petitions to file a challenge, she wrote, noting that the letter dated July 7 fell outside that time frame.

Smith and Frederick then appealed that decision to the board.

The board on Tuesday morning had a lengthy discussion about whether it had the authority to hear an appeal of the supervisor's decision on Ottley's eligibility.

Ultimately, once the board moved forward to discuss the matter, members listened to Fawkes' defense of her decision.

According to V.I. Code, to be eligible to run for the office of lieutenant governor, a candidate must be a U.S. citizen, a bona fide resident of the Virgin Islands and an eligible voter in the territory for the five years preceding the election.

Smith contends Ottley would have had to be living in the territory since May 2009 to qualify but Ottley was working for the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., and not living in the Virgin Islands at that time.

In her presentation, Fawkes discussed V.I. Code as well as case law.

She contended that a change of residence to enable a person to perform the duties of a civil office, whether elected or appointed, does not itself constitute a change of domicile. She also provided the board with information on Ottley's history of voting in the territory.

Joint Board chairwoman Alecia Wells then gave each member three minutes to speak about the issue.

The board then voted to sustain Fawkes' decision, with members Claudette Georges, Lydia Hendricks, Arturo Watlington Jr., Wells, Rupert Ross Jr. and Glenn Webster voting yes.

Wilma Marsh-Monsanto, Lilliana Belardo de O'Neal, Adelbert Bryan and Roland Moolenaar voted against the motion.

Members Lawrence Boschulte and Harry Daniel were absent. Lisa Harris-Moorhead and Raymond Williams, who joined the meeting by phone, expressed support for Fawkes' decision but were not able to vote by phone.

Smith and Frederick, who were present at the meeting, were not allowed to address the board until after the vote, when Belardo de O'Neal made a motion that passed, giving Smith and Frederick an opportunity to speak.

Smith thanked the board for addressing the matter of the appeal but said he did not think the board had addressed the "core issue" he raised about whether Ottley had met the five-year Virgin Islands residency requirement.

"We will look at our options along with our legal team, and determine what our next steps will be," he said.

Smith said that his interpretation of the law is that it applies to people transferred from their place of residence, not individuals who resign from a position and take a different one in another jurisdiction.

Ottley was a V.I. senator when he resigned to take a federal job with the U.S. Department of Interior. He moved back to the territory, still working for the Interior Department, in 2010.

Frederick thanked the board, but said he was disappointed "that only one side of the argument was presented and that none of the board members challenged the entirety of the law." He said he feels that creates distrust in the process.

On Tuesday evening, Ottley said he had heard about the decision.

"I've been confident all the time that I've met the requirements," he said.

He added that he hopes this settles the matter.

In other action on Tuesday, the board approved a policy to conduct runoff elections, setting procedures to ensure that overseas and military voters have the opportunity to participate in any runoff election, as well as a policy on voters seeking assistance with the casting of a ballot.

The policy on runoff elections requires that once a runoff is necessary, the appropriate ballot be printed within 48 hours and mailed by priority mail to overseas and military voters who requested their ballots by mail within four days of election day, and by email or fax to those who requested the ballots be sent that way within three days of the election.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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