St. John Tradewinds News

Special election left uncertified

Elections board members Alecia Wells and Carla Joseph prepare documents related to certification of the April 8 Special Election. A slim majority of district board officials decided not to certify the results. Photo by Judi Shimel.

ST. THOMAS – The furious efforts of elections officials to hold a special ballot is now at a standstill. Members of the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections voted not to take the final step that would make the vote official.

Six of the seven elected members met April 24, briefly debated then cast a 3-2 vote to not certify, with one abstention.

St. Thomas-St. John Elections Board Chairman Arturo Watlington, Vice Chairman Maurice Donovan and Board Secretary Carla Joseph all voted to leave the official results uncertified. Board members Ivy Moses and Lydia Hendricks voted to certify.

Board member Alecia Wells cast an abstention. The absent board member, Diane Magras, has not attended any board meetings for several months.

Then came time for the formal step of signing off on the election results. Wells, Moses and Hendricks signed; Watlington, Donovan and Joseph refused.

Those who voted not to certify the election results said they could not because there were already seven winners for Senate district seats as of Nov. 22.

The special election was ordered by Gov. Kenneth Mapp Feb. 7 to fill a seat that was supposed to be filled by the sixth place winner, Kevin Rodriquez.

Rodriquez became the subject of controversy when the eight place finisher, Janelle Sarauw, sued. Sarauw notified the board on Nov. 21 that she received correspondence raising questions about Rodriquez’s eligibility.

The correspondence was read at the Nov. 22 certification meeting after the certification vote was taken. At that time Watlington said it was too late for the board to do anything about it.

Sarauw and campaign supporter Brigitte Berry sought an injunction in court and won a temporary restraining order from Superior Court Judge Kathleen Mackay. But Mackay declined to convert the TRO into a restraining order.

The case was then moved by the plaintiffs to the Virgin Islands Supreme Court. The local appellate court issued a preliminary injunction Jan. 8, ordering Rodriquez not to take the oath of office at a public swearing in ceremony the following day.

Rodriquez filed a new challenge against the 32nd Legislature and Senate President Myron Jackson, demanding that he be seated as an elected lawmaker.

On Feb. 7 District Court Judge Curtis Gomez declined to intervene. Gomez said the court couldn’t solve the problem but either the Legislature or the executive branch could.

Mapp, head of the executive branch as governor, acted by declaring a special election. On April 8 Sarauw emerged as the winner in a 13 candidate race, with 1,292 votes.

But board members on Monday declined to make the results official by certifying the vote.

The chairman told board members to vote with their conscience, pointing out they consulted last week with legal counsel.

Watlington declared the official count complete. The results circulated among board members showed tallies of early voting, the special election, by provisional and absentee ballots.

Four thousand, five hundred forty voters took part in the special election, he said.

“Another bit of business for this board is to certify the vote. Board members have a right to their own vote. You have the right to determine or not whether you have the right to certify,” he said.

Watlington declined to comment when asked what would happen next.