Elections reforms fall flat

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ST. THOMAS - Monday's Senate Committee on Housing and Government Services hearing - the last work the V.I. Legislature plans to do this year - to consider several elections bills ended with very little progress made.

At the start of the hearing, two bills were pulled off the agenda at the request of the bill sponsors. That left one bill and one amendment, which had been listed as an agenda item, although it was unclear what bill it would be amending.

The one bill, sponsored by Sen. Clifford Graham, would change the way lieutenant governors are elected. The current system forces gubernatorial candidates to select a running mate before the primary. Graham said he wants to open it up to reflect the national presidential elections, where the candidate could wait to select a running mate until after the primary election.

As senators pointed out, this would give gubernatorial candidates a chance to pick a running mate from among those who failed to win the primary.

Independent candidates do not run in the primary, so the bill primarily is for those with a political party affiliation, Graham said.

Sen. Donald Cole supported the idea and said it needs a closer look.

"As a party man, you would want to have the best team going forward," Cole said.

Some senators and speakers from the boards of Elections were concerned that the legislation could open it up to have failed candidates for governor in the primary election run for another political office - such as senator - in the General Election.

Representatives from the joint board of elections also were concerned about some of the enactment dates in the measure. They felt that with the new voting machines, new deadlines and an earlier primary election, there are enough major changes for the upcoming 2014 election.

Graham said he is not "married" to the dates in the bill.

The bill was held in committee.

An amendment, sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Gittens, was on the agenda as well. The measure would allow voters to register on Election Day.

Joint board of elections members had concerns similar to their misgivings about Graham's bill: It would add to the number of changes already set to take place in the upcoming election.

Gittens said he would take the amendment back to legal counsel and present it in a new form at a later time.

Despite the fact that the hearing was to discuss elections matters, several procedural issues arose Monday.

Sen. Tregenza Roach spoke out against a back room meeting on election matters that committee chairwoman Diane Capehart discussed during the committee hearing.

Capehart said the sponsors of the various elections bills - Senators Janette Millin Young, Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly, Graham and Gittens - met with her and several elections officials to talk about the various measures out of the public eye.

"This is really not a road we should be going down," Roach said. "I believe all of those conversations and discussions should take place within the public sphere."

Capehart said the meeting was not advertised to the public, but it was a way to work out some issues before having a public discussion.

The Legislature has gone into recess for the holidays until Jan. 6.

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

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