V.I. attorney waging battle to gain federal vote for USVI


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ST. THOMAS - Two of the most powerful rights citizens in a democracy have are the ability to vote and to choose who creates the laws to which they are subjected.

V.I. attorney Russell Pate in September filed suit in U.S. District Court against six federal agencies to provide those two rights to the residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

On Monday, Ronald Sharpe, U.S. Attorney for the Virgin Islands, filed to dismiss the complaint.The Federal Election Commission had already filed to dismiss on Nov. 7.

Pate's complaint seeks to give residents of the territory the ability to elect and run for the U.S. presidency. He compares territorial suffrage with the historic struggles for voting rights that required revolutionary changes to include minorities and women.

The suit targets the U.S. Federal Election Commission; U.S. Election Assistance Commission; Federal Voting Assistance Program; U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division; and U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs.

Sharpe's suit seeks to dismiss "for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted."

Four Federal Election Commission attorneys on Nov. 7 responded to Pate's complaint in a motion to dismiss on the grounds the commission - created in 1974 - lacks jurisdiction over the historic decisions designating those eligible to vote in federal elections.

The Daily News called and left messages for the commission's General Counsel Anthony Herman, Associate General Counsel David Kolker, Assistant General Counsel Kevin Deeley and attorney Benjamin Streeter III on Friday. Those attorneys are named in the request to dismiss the complaint.

The Daily News sought to ask whether the commission believes that people should vote for the public officials who govern them.

Commission Public Affairs Specialist Julia Queen said the office could not comment on the case.

Queen would not comment on the case.

Pate filed the motion on behalf of Michael Charles "and on behalf of all other persons born in and residing in the U.S. Virgin Islands," according to court documents.

Pate's motion states that Virgin Islanders must abide by federal laws, but they cannot vote for the elected officials who write those laws or run for federal offices that enact them.

According to the Federal Election Commission's motion, "Congress has delegated to the commissioned a cabined and well-defined range of jurisdiction: to civilly enforce and administer federal law regulating campaign finance in federal elections and matching funds for primary and general election presidential candidates."

Pate's complaint asserts that the commission's jurisdiction should apply equally to all U.S. citizens.

"There is no right so sacred and hallowed as the fundamental right that each citizen has the right to vote for elected representatives in their local and federal government and that these same citizens shall have the ability to run for elected office for each area of government which exercises control over their locale," Pate's motion states.

The U.S. Constitution empowered all people to vote from its inception, but who earned the right to vote changed over time, according to Pate.

"The voting rights for women and those of African, Asian and Native American descent only came after monumental efforts for equality," Pate wrote.

The suit also claims that the fundamental right to representation has been denied to residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Pate cites what he considers the foundation for denying territories the right to vote: Insular Cases.

"The reason the Virgin Islanders were denied the right to vote and the right to run for federal office is due to the prejudiced, racist and bigoted rationale of a number of dated Supreme Court cases known as the Insular Cases," Pate wrote.

The Insular Cases are a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases involving the status of U.S. territories acquired during the Spanish-American War in 1898 that were administered by the War Department Bureau of Insular Affairs. Those precedents are the basis for the federal governance of all territories today.

Those cases, Pate wrote, established a basis to deny minority voting rights.

"The majority of the Supreme Court then adopted the erroneous rationale of Plessy v. Dred Scott - that blacks are inferior - and applied this to the Insular Cases to withhold any potential voting rights for future U.S. jurisdictions, which would be non-white majorities."

- Contact reporter Michael Todd at 774-8772 ext. 304 or email mtodd@dailynews.vi.

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