Joint Board OKs post-election audit to reassure public


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ST. CROIX - The V.I. Joint Board of Elections met Thursday on St. Croix and continued to tie up loose ends ahead of this year's primary election, saying they are putting policies in place that will help avoid conflicts.

Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes suggested the board adopt a policy to conduct a post-election audit so that they can count and match votes against the boxes, jump drive and tapes from the machines to ensure the numbers are accurate and rebuild public confidence in the process.

The board approved Fawkes suggestion without objection.

According to the new policy, the audit will be done within 30 days of the election, but the sampling of polling places that will be used will be determined by each district.

Thursday's meeting was a continuation of a May 19 meeting that went into recess before all the agenda items were disposed of and was cancelled on two occasions after it was rescheduled.

Joint board Vice-Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. led the meeting in the absence of the board's chairwoman, Alicia Wells.

Extended discussion took place Thursday to try to correct errors, inconsistencies and problems with the instructions on the ballot draft that board members said might create a hardship for voters.

There were some issues with English to Spanish translations; number and name placements; validity of names that candidates opt to use; and ways to tell the difference between each ballot for each race through color-coding.

The board voted to approve the ballot with the corrections and changes, with Watlington and Lilliana Belardo de O'Neal voting against. Board member Glenn Webster was absent for that vote.

The board also approved a motion by Raymond Williams to have the voting machine program prohibit over-voting. Williams said last election a large number of ballots were spoiled, and if the machine allows for over-voting, it could result in a similar number of spoiled ballots at the end of the election.

Currently, the machines allow over-voting, but they are programmed to advise the voter that they have over-voted and give them the option to continue to submit their ballot sheet.

The board also discussed the treatment of absentee walk-in ballots ahead of the primary election.

Williams said he believes that the ballots should be handled the same was as they are on Election Day and have the board use one machine in the Elections System office and lock the machine every day, then reopen and record tag information at the start of every day.

Watlington said the board still is mandated to wait 10 days for the absentee ballots to be counted so he can not support using the machines in the office because that would start the count at the start of the voting, and it would require a board member to be in the office every day to oversee the voting.

Belardo de O'Neal made a motion to allow for the absentee walk-in votes in the office and use a secured lockbox that would not be opened until 10 days after the election. She said there had been too many residents accusing the board of election fraud in the last election, and the box would allow them to secure the ballots to remove the perception that any type of fraud is going on.

With only Williams and St. Croix Board Chairman Adelbert Bryan voting against the motion, it was approved.

The board members also briefly reviewed an investigative report into last year's election process conducted by the V.I. Attorney General's Office.

Board member Wilma Marsh-Monsanto called for a more thorough investigation into the past election.

Other members described the report as being irrelevant because it suggested the board begin practice of things they already do and references issues that have long been resolved and were not problems in 2012.

Present at Thursday's meeting were Harry Daniel, Williams, Rupert Ross Jr., Marsh-Monsanto, Watlington, Belardo de O'Neal, Bryan, Lisa Harris-Moorhead, Roland Moolenaar and Webster.

St. Thomas members Lydia Hendricks, Paulette Georges, Wells and Lawrence Boschulte were absent.

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

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