Elections Board wants deJongh to veto early voting bill

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ST. THOMAS - The St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections voted to urge Gov. John deJongh Jr. to veto a bill passed by the Legislature in April.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Gittens, provides for early voting in the weeks before an election.

An amendment dealing with voting machines, offered by Sen. Donald Cole, was attached to the bill.

The district board's legal counsel, Assistant Attorney General Kimberly Salisbury, raised a number of concerns that resulted in board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. calling the governor's legal counsel in the middle of the meeting to pass along the message that the board wants deJongh to veto the legislation.

The bill was special-ordered to the floor, amended and passed at an April 24 session. According to the Senate's bill tracker system, the bill was sent to Government House on May 5. The governor has 10 days to take action on legislation once it reaches Government House, which means he must take action on the measure today.

The board questioned the section of the bill that requires a certification process for those who vote early. Several members said they did not understand why a new system would have to be put in place that is not required for regular voting on Election Day or absentee voting.

Watlington said he supports early voting, but the bill that was passed differs from the legislation the board initially was given.

The board and its counsel also had many concerns and questions about the amendment offered by Cole, which mandates the Elections system use "direct recording electronic voting machines."

"This is a dangerous, dangerous bill. It has not been properly vetted," Watlington said.

The board voted to send a letter to the governor asking him to veto the legislation, but recognizing the tight deadline, the phone call was made as well.

When reached for comment Thursday, Gittens said he was surprised by the board's reaction.

"I got the input from both boards, and they all had input into the bill," he said. "It was sent to them, and they came before the Legislature, and they testified that they were in full support of it. I didn't know that we had any problems with the verbiage of the bill."

Gittens said he even let the boards and the supervisor know that he planned to special order the bill to the floor at the April 24 session and asked whether there were any changes that needed to be made.

He said he was told the bill needed to be amended to have the boards be responsible for conducting the early voting instead of the supervisor of elections, and he got that amendment passed at the session.

Gittens said even though it ended up attached to his bill, he actually opposed Cole's amendment because he does not believe the government is in a position to buy new voting machines.

When reached for comment Thursday, Cole said the amendment does not require the government to get new machines. He would not comment further, saying he wanted to see what action the governor took first.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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