Elections supervisor finds no fault in ledger irregularities


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ST. CROIX - The St. Croix District Board of Elections met on Tuesday to hear allegations of forgery and swapping of petitions brought forward by one of the candidates seeking a seat on the board.

However, Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes said that two people who incorrectly signed the ledger when they picked up nomination papers - and whose names later were crossed through and replaced with candidates' names - broke no laws and that new policies will be put into place to make sure the error does not happen in the future.

Epiphane Joseph, who is running for a seat on the St. Croix Board of Elections, wrote a letter to board Chairman Adelbert Bryan in May saying that he had previously written to Fawkes about the legitimacy of nomination petitions picked up by Nancy Paulino and former Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr.

Joseph claimed that the nomination petition Abramson picked up was returned with his name as candidate crossed out and replaced with the name of Senate candidate Collin Hodge and that Paulino's petition was returned with her name crossed out and replaced with that of St. Croix Elections candidate and current board member Rupert Ross Jr. Joseph characterized the irregularities as being fraudulent and unethical.

However, the crossed out names were in the ledger kept by the Elections System logging who picked up nomination papers. There were no crossed-out names or other irregularities on the notarized petitions that were returned to the Elections office.

Abramson and Paulino signed their names in the ledger under the headings for "candidate" and "received by." When Fawkes later went to investigate the ledger following Joseph's complaint, she found that Abramson and Paulino's names had been crossed out under the "candidate" heading and replaced by the names of Hodge and Ross.

Fawkes had responded to the letter saying the nomination petition is a legal instrument subject to examination for defect by herself upon the candidates' filing and there was nothing illegal to investigate based on her assessment and consultation with the legal counsel.

As the meeting began Tuesday, Ross objected to the process on the grounds that anyone who has an objection to the actions of the supervisor of elections had five days to go to the court and file a complaint. Ross said the board has no jurisdiction to hear the complaints made by Joseph as they pertain to certification or petitions.

"I didn't want to stop the process, because I have nothing to hide, but I believe the complainant should have sought recourse with the courts," he said.

Ross said he believes the board should be a neutral party and not allow itself to get into political disputes.

Ross then left the meeting, leaving Bryan and board members Glenn Webster, Roland Moolenaar and Lilliana Belardo de O'Neal, which maintained the bare quorum.

Once the discussion at the hearing began, it became clear that the swapping of names was not done on the petitions but on the record ledger that is kept at the office.

Joseph said he sees the ledger as the beginning of the petition process, and because it is an official record, the actions taken by the individuals should be seen as "questionable, unethical and corrupt."

"It does not take a rocket scientist to see that this is wrong and something must be done," he said. "The supervisor should have launched investigation as soon as it was done and find out how the names were swapped."

Abramson and Ross are knowledgeable of the election process in the territory, and it raises a red flag that they are the ones involved in such actions, Joseph said.

He also asserted that it raises questions about whether people knew who they really were endorsing when they signed the petition.

Webster said that complaint is misleading because it draws attention to the actual petition when the irregularities were on the ledger. The way the ledger is set up with columns for "candidate" and "received by" may have caused some confusion for the people picking up and filing the petition packages, he said.

Fawkes said once she was notified of the name changes in the ledger, she contacted the candidates but got no definite answer of how or why it was done and nothing that can be done about it, because no law was violated.

She produced a ledger from 2010 filings that showed instances of names being crossed out and said it is all a matter of past practice and business as usual, but going forward things will have to be changed.

Fawkes said that she is not involved in the process at the early stages when petitions are filed and that she has spoken with staff in the office to avoid any replay of such situations.

Bryan said the complaint and the discussion sheds lights on changes in policy and the process that may need to be adjusted to put more checks and balances in place.

"There are a number of things that we could do, but it is not up to us alone to determine that," he said.

The board can have a discussion about any changes at a future meeting, and they could vote to make changes or make recommendations to the joint board of elections, he said.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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