Federal appeals court says Coffelt can stay on Nov. ballot

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ST. THOMAS - Gubernatorial candidate Soraya Diase-Coffelt and running mate John Canegata will stay on the General Election ballot.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion Tuesday stating that Coffelt, who is running as an independent, and Canegata, a Republican who won the party's state chairmanship in the Aug. 2 primary, will be eligible to run in the territory's General Election, scheduled for Nov. 4.

"Thus, like the District Court, we conclude that the Code does not expressly prohibit Canegata's candidacy. At the same time, however, we recognize that the plain language of the Code does not affirmatively permit Canegata's candidacy either," the 3rd Circuit Court's opinion stated.

Earlier this month, the Appeals Court granted an injunction against removing the Coffelt-Canegata ticket from the General Election ballot after the candidates appealed a ruling by Chief District Judge Wilma Lewis.

In July, Lewis upheld the decision of V.I. Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes, who was the first authority to decide that Coffelt and Canegata could not run together based on their differing party affiliations.

"The District Court concluded that the Election Code was silent on the permissibility of Canegata's candidacy; that this silence was ambiguous; and that as a result, the Supervisor of Elections' interpretation of the Code, which the Court found persuasive, was entitled to deference," the opinion Tuesday stated.

The opinion noted that in many states, including in Pennsylvania, whose state election code is the basis for the territory's, Canegata would have to separate himself from his party.

However, no such provision exists within the V.I. Code, and Coffelt and Canegata will be allowed to run together as a result.

The Coffelt-Canegata ticket issued a statement Tuesday applauding the 3rd Circuit Court's ruling.

"The illegal actions of the Supervisor of Elections to keep us off the ballot have been voided. This is a ground-breaking decision for the people of the Virgin Islands because it solidifies the right of the people to nominate candidates of their choice no matter what political persuasion that candidate may have," the statement said.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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