St. Thomas Senate race tight


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ST. THOMAS - As the ballot-counting on St. Thomas enters its final phase, two Senate candidates from that district still are within striking distance of a seat in the 30th Legislature.

With the latest Senate count Sunday evening, Donald Cole commanded the seventh and final spot in the race with 3,573 votes. Eighth-place finisher Lawrence Olive was 60 votes back, with a total of 3,513 votes, and Justin Harrigan Sr. was in ninth place with 3,487 votes, 86 votes behind Cole.

But the count at that point did not include 173 provisional ballots or 205 mail-in absentee ballots that have been returned to the Elections Office so far. According to board members, a total of 313 absentee ballots were mailed out to St. Thomas-St. John District voters. The deadline for mail-in absentee ballots to be returned is Friday.

Since Sunday, the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections and elections judges have been counting at-poll and walk-in paper ballots in the races for Delegate to Congress, the Board of Education and the Board of Elections. Board of Elections Chairwoman Alecia Wells said that counting was wrapping up Wednesday night.

Board member Lawrence Boschulte said the counting of the provisional and mail-in absentee ballots will begin today, with periodic checks for new mail-in ballots throughout the day and into Friday. He said a final check for any last-minute absentee ballots will take place after the close of business on Friday.

The board expects to certify the vote count early next week, before the Nov. 21 deadline to do so.

Federal oversight

Meanwhile, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alphonso Andrews addressed questions Wednesday regarding the U.S. Justice Department's oversight of the election in light of an onslaught of complaints from voters and candidates regarding the 2012 election cycle.

Andrews was appointed by U.S. Attorney Ronald Sharpe in October to serve as the District Election Officer for the Virgin Islands. In that capacity, Andrews is responsible for "overseeing the District's handling of complaints of election fraud and voting rights abuses in consultation with Justice Department Headquarters in Washington, D.C.," according to a press release from Sharpe's office.

Andrews said Wednesday he would not confirm or deny receiving complaints regarding the Nov. 6 General Election, nor would he confirm or deny the existence of an investigation related to those issues.

"We don't give out that kind of information," Andrews said.

Andrews said that despite complaints and allegations circulating in the territory since well before the election, it is not the role of his office to interfere with the local elections office or to examine questions about local elections laws.

"Our concern has to be violations of federal law," Andrews said.

When asked about several voters' complaints that a handful of poll sites ran out of paper ballots on Election Day, Andrews said he had heard the reports.

"But I have not heard a complaint that anyone was denied a ballot," Andrews said. "I have heard they ran out and voters had to wait, but not that they were refused a ballot."

Andrews also downplayed the extent to which his office has jurisdiction over the territory's electronic voting machines, which lack federal certification. He said the controlling law on the issue - the Help America Vote Act - does not require that local jurisdictions use federally certified machines.

"It's voluntary from a federal standpoint," Andrews said. "If you check the law, it doesn't make them illegal."

Andrews' interpretation is in accord with a February 2011 letter from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which oversees the implementation of HAVA standards, to St. Croix Board of Elections member Adelbert Bryan.

"It is important to remember that the EAC's Voting System Testing and Certification Program is a voluntary program," EAC Testing and Certification Director Brian Hancock wrote. "States and Territories can choose to use as little or as much of the EAC's program as they feel is appropriate."

Correspondence from the EAC's Office of the Inspector General, which has scheduled an audit of the V.I. Elections System to begin next week, paints a slightly different picture.

The audit will seek to determine whether the Elections System "(1) expended HAVA payments in accordance with the Act and related administrative requirements; and (2) complied with the HAVA requirements for replacing punch-card or lever voting machines, establishing an election fund, and maintaining Virgin Island expenditures for elections at a level not less than expended in fiscal year 2000."

Andrews said those requirements are issued by the EAC and are not a matter of federal law.

- Contact reporter Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email lmattei@dailynews.vi.

Significant events surrounding the 2012 election cycle:

- Feb. 18, 2011 - The U.S. Election Assistance Commission notifies St. Croix Board of Elections member Adelbert Bryan that the compliance of the territory's voting machines with EAC standards is "voluntary."

- Dec. 28, 2011 - Gov. John deJongh Jr. signs into law a bill that modifies an earlier act to read "only those voting machines and equipment that are EAC certified pursuant to The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), Public Law 107-252, for Primary, General and Special elections shall be utilized as the official voting systems or equipment."

- Sept. 7, 2012 - District Judge Curtis Gomez approves a consent decree requiring the territory's Boards of Elections and the V.I. Elections System to comply with federal laws regarding overseas absentee ballots, among other requirements.

- Sept. 18, 2012 - A number of St. Thomas-St. John candidates send a letter to the Joint Board of Elections, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the V.I. Civil Rights Commission complaining about the non-EAC-certified voting machines, the way paper ballots were handled in the Sept. 8 primary election and "Our Election System in General."

- Oct. 1, 2012 - St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections Vice Chairwoman Wilma Marsh-Monsanto files a formal challenge to the board's certification of the primary results, questioning whether the certification was approved by a proper quorum of the board. Two days later, two candidates file a similar challenge, incorporating several concerns from the Sept. 18 complaint.

- Oct. 22, 2012 - EAC Inspector General Curtis Crider notifies deJongh that the EAC intends to launch an investigation of the V.I. Elections System "on or about November 19, 2012."

- Nov. 5, 2012 - The St. Thomas-St. John Board certifies its electronic voting machines roughly 12 hours before the polls open after conducting a test of the machines that was not publicly announced.

- Nov. 6, 2012 - Voters on Election Day lodge numerous complaints about the conduct of the election, including widespread shortages of paper ballots and about Board of Elections members running for re-election being involved in the counting of votes. The St. Croix Board restricts public access to the counting of votes on Election Night. Neither board counts all of the votes cast within a day of the election, as required by V.I. law.

- Nov. 6, 2012 - Delegate to Congress candidate Warren Mosler files a complaint with U.S. Attorney's Office contending that "there are more than sufficient reasons for those with the legal authority to conduct a full investigation with regard to election irregularities and voter fraud to immediately do so."

- Nov. 10, 2012 - V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer announces a five-member panel of senior Justice Department staff will investigate "voter complaints about the 2012 election cycle."

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