Joint Board appoints acting deputy supervisor of elections


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ST. CROIX - In the aftermath of St. Thomas-St. John Deputy Elections Supervisor Mabel Maduro's abrupt resignation this week, the Joint Board of Elections voted during a special meeting Friday to name that district's administrative assistant Sharon Benjamin the acting deputy supervisor of elections in that district.

The St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections made the recommendation to the Joint Board to name Benjamin to the position.

Joint Board Secretary Arturo Watlington Jr. said Benjamin will assume all of the responsibilities of the deputy supervisor and will be compensated with 20 percent of that position's $73,000 annual salary.

Benjamin oversaw a majority of the Election System's operations during the 2012 election cycle, when Maduro was absent after a falling out with Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr.

Maduro's resignation comes on the heels of the announcement earlier this year that Abramson will take sick leave until he retires at the end of May.

The vote approving Benjamin came at the end of the meeting, following an executive session and one of many heated exchanges between the board members.

Before the vote, St. Thomas District member Wilma Marsh-Monsanto, along with St. Croix members Roland Moolenaar, Lilliana Belardo de O'neal and Glenn Webster, had stormed out of the meeting.

Harry Daniel had left the meeting more than an hour earlier, and the remaining members voted in favor of the resolution with the exception of St. Croix Board Chairman Adelbert Bryan. St. Croix board member Raymond Williams abstained.

James Weber III is the deputy supervisor in the St. Croix district, and no decision has yet been made to appoint an acting supervisor of elections while Abramson is on sick leave.

Following a brief presentation from Assistant Attorney General Kimberly Salisbury, the Joint Board also voted to approve five date changes necessary under Title 18 of the V.I. Code to bring the law into compliance with the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. The Act, among other things, requires states to send absentee ballots to overseas voters at least 45 days before an election.

Salisbury said the territory's current deadlines per the statutes make it impossible to comply with the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act because the deadline for candidates to file to run for office falls inside of the 45-day window.

Adjusting the dates to be in compliance will start the elections calendar possibly in March, rather than in June as it is now, according to Salisbury.

A federal judge last September approved a consent decree between the Election System and the U.S. Justice Department under which elections officials must take steps to ensure continued compliance with federal elections laws by December 2013, and the Joint Board is expected to present its first status update on June 1, Salisbury said.

Starting off the meeting, Stephanie Barnes, the Virgin Islands Territorial Americans with Disability Act coordinator, discussed the need for the board to bring all of its spaces into compliance with the ADA guidelines. She said that as the coordinator, upon a request from the board, she can show them what it take and the tools needed to do a self-evaluation and transition and train staff on the varying areas of the ADA.

It is the board's responsibility to bring everything up to code for inspection by the U.S. Justice Department, but she is available to guide them, Barnes said.

Hundreds of thousands of federal dollars are dependant on the board's ability to get the offices and the board's procedures up to code to accommodate the disabled.

The board also approved a resolution to have Abramson appear before them for its April 24 scheduled meeting to discuss a number of outstanding issues.

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

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