Rains dampen voter turnout for primary election

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ST. THOMAS - The turnout was not as impressive as elections officials had hoped, but the territory's primary election still pulled in 9,214 voters on Saturday, according to unofficial results posted by the V.I. Elections System as of midnight Sunday.

In the St. Thomas-St. John District, 27 percent of 17,269 registered voters turned out, according to V.I. Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes, at midnight Sunday. On St. Croix, 40 percent of the 18,104 registered voters turned out, she said at the same time.

The territory's overall turnout - 9,217 voters - was 26.05 percent, as of about 10 p.m. Saturday, according to the unofficial count. In the territory's last gubernatorial election, in 2010, the territory's turnout was 39.9 percent. In 2012, it was 14.65 percent.

Elections officials believe that Tropical Storm Bertha was largely responsible for the fewer numbers who showed at the polls from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. All three islands with voting polls - St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John - experienced heavy rain and strong winds early in the morning and throughout the day.

St. Croix, however, received the worst of it - and turned out to have the substantially better turnout.

"It's hard to say why," Fawkes said, noting that it could be because the voters supposedly turned out earlier and the candidate support was stronger.

Fawkes admitted she hoped for a better turnout in the General Election on Nov. 4. Historically, the General Election has a better turnout, and it is hoped that no storm will make its way to the territory that day as well.

During the General Election in both 2010 and 2012, and for most years prior, the turnout has been close to 65 percent territorywide, Fawkes said.

"If we could get 75 to 80 percent for the General Election, that would be great," said Fawkes.

While some of the voters said that they were not thrilled to plow through the weather, or the campaigners, for the primary election, they did not understand why more people were not coming out to vote.

"What if everybody stayed home? The system wouldn't work," said Rochelle Trotman, who voted at Charlotte Amalie High School on St. Thomas. "We've seen more rain than this."

Some of the voters acknowledged that they had waited for a dry spell during the day to visit the polling places. Many of them waited in the car during the squalls and wore parkas and rain jackets while hopping over puddles to get to the poll locations.

"I had to come. If you don't vote, you can't complain," said Gloria Fabian, a voter who cast her ballot at Tutu Park Mall on St. Thomas.

Some voters said that they thought the election would have been better attended if it had been moved to a later date, just as it was in 1996 during Hurricane Bertha.

On St. Croix, for instance, power outages and leaking facilities inconvenienced some voters.

"All this water and the conditions of the road is a safety risk to all involved," Frances McIntosh, who voted at the St. Croix Educational Complex, said. "If even for a week, we should have waited for the storm to pass so there would be less confusion and less risk to people life."

Rosa Soto Thomas, a poll judge at the Educational Complex said that the lack of power certainly made things more difficult, especially since the room was quite dark.

"It is difficult and not what we are used to, but we are making out," she said.

No outages were reported at polling locations on St. Thomas, though Tutu Park Mall experienced some minor leaks.

Additionally, with the consolidation of precincts at new locations, some of the voters were somewhat confused about which machines to use, though their confusion was quickly absolved with the help of poll volunteers.

Still, despite the inconveniences, voters felt that the territory's floundering economy, sky-high crime rates, and tendency towards corruption called for their votes - a point echoed by the long lines and large crowds of campaigners at each polling location.

Many of the campaigners wore parkas or attempted to stay dry under an umbrella. Some of the campaign crews said that they had to retrieve their tent covers several times and that they had to change clothes a few times too.

"Wet. It's wet, but I think the people still are coming out. They might come out more slowly, but they're coming out," said Ingrid Percival, who was rooting for Stacey Plaskett outside of Charlotte Amalie High School.

Percival was wrapped in a yellow rain jacket and struggling to keep control of her umbrella and campaign sign as sheets of rain came at her between gusts of wind. She has never had to stand outside in such poor weather in 10 years of campaigning, she said. Still, she had no intention of leaving her post.

"When I come out to do a job, I am out to do a job," Percival said.

Many of the campaigners had tattered, soggy signs by the day's end after standing outside from before the polls opened, until after.

Most of the campaigners, however, said that they would be back to do it again come the General Election, rain or shine.

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

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