St. Thomas voter files complaint against Elections for holding primaries despite Tropical Storm Bertha


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ST. THOMAS - A voter has filed a 16-page complaint against V.I. Election authorities because they did not halt the primary elections during Tropical Storm Bertha on Aug. 2.

Alan Haynes Sr., of St. Thomas, filed a complaint in federal court on Monday against the V.I. Joint Board of Elections, both district boards, V.I. Election System Supervisor Caroline Fawkes and the V.I. government.

The complaint falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court because it "raises a federal question due to disenfranchisement of a large number of registered voters," the complaint states, though it lists a number of other misgivings aside from officials' failure to reschedule the election.

The complaint notes that the territory's ports were closed and that a V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency alert had been issued the day of the primary election because of the storm.

Haynes contends he was deprived of his constitutional rights because he was unable to get to the poll because of weather conditions on the day of the election. Haynes is registered to vote on St. Thomas.

"The weather was such that it prevented the plaintiff and many others from voting, as is evident by the very low overall voter turnout on August 2, 2014, as compared to primaries held in the years past," the complaint states.

The territory's overall turnout - 9,217 voters - was 26.05 percent, according to the unofficial count released by the V.I. Elections System on Aug. 3.

In the territory's last gubernatorial election, in 2010, the territory's turnout was 39.9 percent.

In 2012, during a non-gubernatorial election year, it was 14.65 percent.

Following the Aug. 2 primary, Elections officials said that Tropical Storm Bertha was largely responsible for the low number of voters who showed at the polls from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

All three islands with polling places experienced heavy rain and strong winds early in the morning and inclement weather throughout the day.

The complaint states that the "integrity of the 'election' " was further damaged by a number of other compromises, including the shift of the absentee voter deadline from July 15 to Aug. 1. Haynes argues the change made it "impossible for absentee voters to be entered into the system," before the election and created a situation in which they could have gone to the polls and voted again after sending an absentee vote.

"There are accounts from several voters who actually voted as a walk-in absentee and also voted again, a second time, on Election Day, which was to test their ability to vote multiple times as a result of not being entered into the system," Haynes said.

The complaint also said that the St. Thomas-St. John District Board of Elections Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. and board member Claudette Georges were assisting walk-in absentee voters during the voting process, which Haynes said is a conflict of interest.

Additionally, Haynes took issue with a July 31 radio announcement that encouraged voters to vote as absentees because of the inclement weather, a directive that was not given by officials, Haynes said, but later was condoned by them. Inclement weather is not excuse enough to meet the absentee criteria, Haynes said.

"No official from the Election System or the board publicly retracted the unsanctioned statement," he said.

The complaint also suggests that Watlington, Georges and board member Lydia Hendricks compromised the count by hoarding ballots before July 31 under the pretense that they were going to hand them out to elders, though Haynes questions their motives.

Watlington also suspiciously "misplaced" a seal for one of the voting machines, Haynes said. His complaint questions why Watlington was handling a seal in the first place.

In his lawsuit, Haynes also questions the count, which to date has not been finalized territorywide.

The complaint also notes that the defendants violated the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act by not meeting the deadline to send out ballots to voters protected by the act and revives the claim that Basil Ottley Jr. should be disqualified as a candidate for lieutenant governor.

A decision issued by Fawkes and the V.I. Superior Court decided that, despite questions raised concerning Ottley's residency in the territory in recent years, Ottley will be allowed to stay in the race because of insufficient evidence that he was not a resident during the applicable time period and because the complaint against him was filed in an untimely manner.

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

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