As we approach the 2012 election cycle, there is much debate throughout the territory about electing new candidates for public office and reforming our election system. Most of these changes have been prompted by Virgin Islanders who are seriously displeased with the current status of our election system and are demanding changes. So, without a doubt this will be an explosive election season that should produce all sorts of new policies decisions.
See also: AARP Bulletin Survey on Election Issues
Currently there are five bills before the Legislature which, if passed, would significantly change the VI election process. Some of these bills will expand voters’ input into how we run our government while others will simply tell VI voters how things have been decided for them.
Bill No. 29-0305. sponsored by Senator Janette Millin-Young, will help the VI election system comply with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act by requiring that absentee ballots be transmitted at least 45 days before the general election.
Bill No. 29-0105, sponsored by Senators Louis Patrick Hill, Carlton Ital Dowe, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen and Sammuel Sanes would allow VI voters to express their preference for president and vice president. Although this would be the first time VI voters could express a preference, these votes still would not be counted.
Bills 29-0299 and 29-0310 cut to the heart of what Virgin Islands voters have been most vocal about over the past several months – how legislative policymakers in the territory would actually get elected. Bill Number 29-0299, sponsored by Senators Hill and Nereida O’Reilly would call for a binding referendum during the 2012 elections which would determine the method for electing senators beginning in 2014. The options include: Sub-Districting, Numbered Seating, Territorial-At-Large or Status Quo. The bill also describes in detail, the responsibilities of the Joint Boards of Elections toward educating the public on the 5 available options and that the results would be binding.
Bill Number 29-0310 on the other hand gives the Legislature the power to determine how legislators will be elected henceforth. This bill retains all 15 senators but calls for the election of Legislators by a combination of island seats and at-large district seats. Four senators will be elected from each island and one from St. John. The bill requires the remaining six senators to be elected as “At-Large” senators by the Virgin Islands voters.
The last Bill and perhaps the most controversial one to date deals with the election process itself. Bill Number 29-0278, sponsored by Senators Neville James and Celestino White, proposes to resolve the “paper ballot” issue by legislatively mandating a paper ballot option for voters. This bill specifies that the ballot shall be able to be manually marked by the voter providing those voters with verification “correctly reflecting the voter’s choice of candidates or vote on any measure presented.”
Tucked neatly into Bill 29-0278 are other changes to the VI election system. For instance, it will require political parties to be responsible for implementing, conducting and financing a method of selecting party officers and nominating candidates for party and public office including the nomination, election and certification processes. It also changes the requirement for government employees to take a leave of absence upon filing a nomination petition for public office and updates the responsibilities of the Deputy Supervisor of Elections.
Unlike most election cycles where voters are usually focused on the platforms of the candidates, this year voters have much more to think about before they go to the polls. That’s why this year it is extremely important that voters get informed about both changes to the election system as well as follow what the candidates have to say on the issues.
Stay informed. Visit the AARP VI web page and keep pace with this year’s election news. We also encourage you to visit our social media sites on Facebook and Twitter.