Police called when Elections Board member refuses to leave when asked
Published: September 11, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The St. Thomas Board of Elections office nearly became the scene of an arrest Tuesday after board member Wilma Marsh-Monsanto, who was suspended in June from two future meetings for "breach of fiduciary duty," refused to leave as the board entered executive session during its regular monthly meeting.
Eventually, Marsh-Monsanto, who is part of a group of Virgin Islanders who have sued the Elections system claiming fraud and other irregularities after the 2012 election, agreed to leave.
Three V.I. Police officers arrived and took statements from Marsh-Monsanto and other St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections members, but they made no arrests and issued no citations following the altercation Tuesday afternoon.
The matter was classified as a police assistance call in the police blotter, and V.I. Police spokeswoman Melody Rames confirmed that that classification would remain as the final disposition of the call.
At the start of Tuesday's board meeting, board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. informed Marsh-Monsanto that she could attend the meeting but she was not allowed to speak. Watlington stated that Marsh-Monsanto had been informed of the board's decision in writing in an email and that she had dodged a process server on two occasions when the server attempted to deliver her documents officially notifying her of the suspension.
Marsh-Monsanto complied but resisted when asked to leave while the board entered executive session. She called the suspension baseless and promised, after police took statements from her, to use the statements in a lawsuit alleging "forcible expulsion" and "defamation of character."
"I am a duly elected official whose only fiduciary obligation is to do the business of the people, and I am an American citizen who has a right to due process, and I was not given due process. The suspension is unenforceable," Marsh-Monsanto said.
Regarding Marsh-Monsanto's specific breach of duty, Watlington said the board considered her statements to the press about the board's mismanagement of Elections affairs was indecorous and a violation of her duties as a board member.
"As a board member, she is not supposed to be making public statements undermining the Elections System," Watlington said.
This is not the first time that tensions between Marsh-Monsanto and members of the public who claim Elections fraud have risen to the level of police intervention.
In late June, Diane Magras, also a plaintiff in legal actions against the Elections System and the board of elections, called police to report that "seals on ballot boxes had been broken." Magras filed a report on the matter, which she believed to be evidence of tampering or potential records tampering.
The V.I. Police Department refused to open an investigation, according to St. Thomas-St. John Police Chief Darren Foy, who said that investigating officers had not found any "criminal activity afoot."
Board members in turn halted the citizens' group led by Magras and Marsh-Monsanto from their nearly two-week review of tally sheets and other documents pertaining to the 2012 election.
Magras was one of four members of the public who attended Tuesday's meeting in support of Marsh-Monsanto, as was St. Thomas resident Agrey George, who said he attended to protest Marsh-Monsanto's suspension.
"She is an elected official, and I am her constituent, and I want her to represent me on the board," George said.
During Tuesday's meeting, the board's only action was to vote on a motion to bring representatives from Elections System and Software, the company that manufactures the DS 200 tabulating machines, back to the Virgin Islands for a second instructional visit on Nov. 18 and 19. The board plans to conduct public demonstrations of the machines to familiarize voters with the optical scan process in the fall.
The territory's 43 machines, which cost $646,480, have not been accepted yet, and Watlington said the matter of acceptance would have to be deferred so the purchasing contract could be reviewed to determine who ultimately is the legal signatory responsible for acceptance - the Joint Board of Elections or the Elections supervisor.
Watlington also reiterated his contention that the 43 machines, 20 for the St. Thomas-St. John District and 23 for the St. Croix District, cannot handle the volume of the territory's voters during the next election.
Watlington and board member Lawrence Boschulte have said that ES&S customer representatives have recommended that, for optimum use, each machine process no more than 400 voters per day. The St. Thomas-St. John District has 17 polling sites, and the average voter turn-out per station is about 1,200, the board members have said.
"We may have to consolidate polling sites," Watlington said. "The other options are to extend early voting and to expand absentee voting."
In an interview in August, Kathy Rogers, a senior vice president at ES&S, said that the 43 machines are completely sufficient to handle the territory's voters.
"We have DS 200 machines in precincts with 3,000 voters in them. These machines are used in New York City. There are many more voters there than anywhere else," Rogers said. "They will definitely handle the volume, no problem."
During its executive session Tuesday, the board discussed two final candidates for the position of deputy supervisor, which has been unfilled in the district since Mabel Maduro abruptly resigned from the post in March, and the Joint Board named that district's administrative assistant, Sharon Benjamin, the acting St. Thomas-St. John deputy supervisor of Elections.
The Joint Board will take up the nominations at its next meeting, which will be "some time after" Sept. 13, Joint Board Chairwoman Alecia Wells said.
In other business, the board formally welcomed newly appointed Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes, who started working in her capacity as supervisor Aug. 12.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.