St. Croix Elections Board votes to move forward with casting of lots


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ST. CROIX - St. Croix Board of Elections met in a specially called meeting Thursday evening and among other actions taken, the board voted unanimously to ignore plans by the St. Thomas-St. John board to delay the casting of the lots for the General Election.

The St. Thomas-St. John board is awaiting a decision from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the eligibility of the Coffelt-Canegata gubernatorial team.

A challenge was brought against Soraya Diase-Coffelt and John Canegata, saying they were not eligible to seek the territory's top seats because Canegata is a Republican and Coffelt is registered as a no-party candidate.

In May, Elections Supervisor Caroline Fawkes ruled the Coffelt-Canegata ticket ineligible for the ballot. However, Coffelt appealed to the 3rd Circuit Court, which issued an injunction earlier this month against removing them from the ballot while it considers the motion.

At Thursday's St. Croix District board meeting, Fawkes reported to the board that the St. Thomas-St. John Board has decided not to move forward with casting of lots because it is not yet known whether the Coffelt-Canegata team will be on the ballot.

She said that board's position is that if the team is not allowed on the ballot, they will be faced with not knowing how to remove them from the ballot and that will cause confusion in the voting process.

Fawkes said she plans to move forward with casting of lots for Tuesday but said she needed an opinion from the St. Croix board as well.

As the Nov. 4 General Election moves closer, Coffelt-Canegata signs began popping up across the territory this week.

St. Croix board member Rupert Ross Jr. said the board in each district should continue with carrying out its duties as mandated by law and let the court independently do its work. A temporary restraining order was put in place that prevented the removal of the team from the ballot until a ruling is made, but that should not affect the work the board is doing or interrupt the process of moving the election forward, he said.

"This is all independent, and we need to go ahead with business as usual and get it done," Ross said. "We have other legal obligations with federal mandates and other candidates, and we need to be responsible."

Ross said the board has a calendar that already has been approved by the joint board, and the St. Croix board must proceed because there are deadlines that they need to meet.

Other members agreed with Ross' position and agreed that they would continue the process.

Board Chairman Adelbert Bryan said because it is not known when the 3rd Circuit decision will come, he would agree to go ahead with the process regardless of what the St. Thomas-St. John board does.

"We going to decide, but we going to leave them. They are the ones who are going to have to explain to the court why they did not follow the law," he said.

The St. Croix board authorized Fawkes to contact the V.I. Attorney General's Office to have them request of the 3rd Circuit Court that they move expeditiously on the matter in light of the Aug. 29 deadline to order the ballot for the General Election.

Fawkes said she is hoping that the court has taken notice of the fact that Canegata has been voted as the Republican state chairman in the primary election and that should aid in their decision making.

Board member Raymond Williams said the matter will be addressed at the next board meeting in hopes of getting the St. Thomas-St. John District on board with moving forward. Until then, all parties will be notified of the time and date for the St. Croix casting of the lots to include the candidates for governor, delegate to Congress, boards of Elections and the Senate.

In other business, the board voted not to code the ballots to be read by precincts for the upcoming elections.

Bryan said he was concerned that there would be no way to track the votes by precincts per candidate of persons who voted early using the machine inside the Elections System's office.

Fawkes said the only thing to be careful with in coding the ballots would be to make sure there are a sufficient number for each precinct because they would not be able to be interchangable between polling sites.

Bryan and Ross voted against the motion not to code the ballots, while board member Roland Moolenaar abstained.

Ross followed up that action with a motion for the board to have ballots equal to 150 percent of the number of registered voters at each precinct so sufficient ballots are available.

Glenn Webster voted no, saying that he thought 150 percent was too many ballots because the average number of voter turnout falls below 70 percent of registered voters.

The board also voted to have Bryan prepare ballot language to be approved by the joint board about how vote for the full party slate and to recommend to the joint board that each contest on the ballot is designated by a specific color.

The board moved on to discuss responsibilities of each board member and their polling sites for the upcoming election and that quickly deteriorated into a name-calling battle between Williams and Bryan.

Bryan accused Williams of withholding information about setting up his polling site during the primary election, and Williams accused Bryan of dodging his responsibilities during that election.

The arguments escalated for several minutes, until Williams left the meeting and Bryan called a five minute recess. Lisa Harris Moorhead also left at that time.

After the recess, the board discussed the responsibilities of Barbara Hitesman of Yaya Consultants, the contracted webmaster.

Fawkes explained that it was a lack of communication and coordination between the webmaster and the technicians from Elections Systems and Software that resulted in the failure of results appearing on the system's website and public viewing areas as they were loaded during the primary elections.

She said things are being worked out, links are being provided and there should be no problems for the members of the public and media for the General Election.

Fawkes also said she is trying to ensure that an audio feed is also available on election night so the public can follow the activities between the judges and board members during the vote-counting.

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

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