V.I.'s 2014 election process might not include primaries

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ST. CROIX - It is anyone's guess whether any primaries will take place in 2014 after Elections officials said Wednesday that none of the political parties have responded to correspondence seeking information about their nomination process for the upcoming election season.

The St. Croix Board of Elections took up the issue at its meeting Wednesday, but ultimately took no course of action regarding the primaries.

Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes said she sent correspondence to the Democratic, Republican and ICM political parties seeking information about their plans of action regarding primary elections.

Only the ICM party - which historically never conducts a primary - responded, but they did not address the matter of a primary and instead brought in its logo.

Fawkes said the deadline to respond was Feb. 14.

Board Chairman Adelbert Bryan said the law passed by the Senate before the 2012 election is clear, as it speaks to the parties absorbing the cost of holding primary elections.

"Even if the money is there now, it does not supersede the law that the parties are the ones responsible," he said.

Bryan said despite the position of some board members that they may need to discuss the matter more with the joint board, he has concluded that he will not be part of anything other that doing what the law says.

"Our intention is to follow the law, and we need to state our position," he said. "They are to provide a process for us to certify and nobody has done that, so I guess there will be no primary."

With the nomination packages scheduled to be picked up beginning April 7, Bryan relinquished the chair to vice-chairwoman Lilliana Belardo de O'Neal so he could make a motion to withhold the nomination packages until the political parties submit a plan to the board. Raymond Williams objected, saying the election calendar already is in place, and the board can not violate the law by ignoring the calendar.

The motion failed with Bryan voting in favor of withholding the packages, members Rupert Ross Jr., Glenn Webster and Williams voting against it and O'Neal and Roland Moolenaar abstaining. Lisa Harris-Moorhead had been present at the meeting, but was absent for the vote.

Democratic State Chairman Cecil Benjamin could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening about the primary election letter and the party's position.

However, John Canegata, Republican state chairman said he found out Wednesday that the letter from Fawkes had been sent to an incorrect mailing address for him. He received the letter Wednesday evening and had not reviewed it. He said moving forward, it is the belief of his party that the parties should be responsible for their own primary elections to help save the government money and put responsibility back on the parties.

Also at its meeting Wednesday, the board unanimously approved the newly created document that outlines the qualifications for elected offices in the territory.

The document is now expected to be presented to the joint board, because it would be a matter of policy that has to be common across the territory, according to Williams.

There was some concern about the qualifications prohibiting someone who had been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, but some members said that would be difficult because there are no local laws that specifically outline such crimes.

"This would be a case of first impression because there is no listing here, and we, as a board, have no authority to put out a list," Harris-Moorhead said. The Senate has failed to deal with making any laws clear on that matter, and until that is done, the board has nothing to define, she said.

Harris-Moorhead also pointed out that while the board will be running a check of the candidates through the National Criminal Information Center databases, nowhere else in the country conducts such a check for persons running for public office.

Fawkes said while there has been some input from the board, the qualification of candidates for office is the function of the supervisor, and the packages will be ready for pick-up next week.

Because this is the first election cycle using the new voting machines, the board agreed to conduct an exercise during which they will use members of the community to demonstrate the proposed set-up and operation of the machines, in addition to doing a run-through of where voters will go when they arrive at each polling site.

The board also voted to relocate the Florence Williams Library polling site to Pearle B. Larsen School and to relocate the John F. Kennedy polling station to the nearby Juanita Gardine School.

Williams said a recent assessment since recent purging of inactive voters from the system shows the numbers of voters at each of the sites have significantly decreased. He said the relocation would result in cost-savings for the Elections System and the ability to have more machines available.

The board also voted unanimously to allow any single voter only three spoiled ballots on Election Day. After that, voters would be allowed to use a provisional ballot to cast their vote, so as to not deny anyone their right to vote.

A joint Elections board meeting is scheduled for April 9 on St. Thomas, and the next St. Croix District board meeting is scheduled for May 7.

For information on election updates, deadlines and other information visit www.vivote.gov.

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

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