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ESVI trains on constitutional convention but tweak to law still needed

St. Croix Deputy Supervisor of Elections Terrell Alexandre conducts training for delegate candidates for the Sixth Constitutional Convention on how to complete the nomination petition Tuesday evening at the Elections System of the Virgin Islands in the Sunny Isle Shopping Center as Sandra Gerard-Leung reviews documents provided to attendees that were returned at the end of the training.
St. Croix Deputy Supervisor of Elections Terrell Alexandre conducts training for delegate candidates for the Sixth Constitutional Convention on how to complete the nomination petition Tuesday evening at the Elections System of the Virgin Islands in the Sunny Isle Shopping Center as Sandra Gerard-Leung reviews documents provided to attendees that were returned at the end of the training.

ST. CROIX — An official with the Elections System of the Virgin Islands recently discussed a concern ESVI has about the election of the sole St. John delegate to the Sixth Constitutional Convention, but a pending amendment will clear up the issue.

St. Croix Deputy Supervisor of Elections Terrell Alexandre, while conducting training for delegate candidates on how to complete the nomination petition Tuesday evening at the System’s office in the Sunny Isle Shopping Center, discussed the legislation that established the Sixth Constitutional Convention, as well as subsequent amendments that removed references to at-large delegates.

The law, Act No. 8681, dictates the process by which the 15 delegates must be elected during the general election on Tuesday, November 5. It requires seven residents from St. Croix, seven residents from St. Thomas, and one resident from St. John.

The original language said every qualified voter may vote for no more than five candidates for their district, and no more than five candidates for at-large delegate, totaling 15.

Alexandre discussed the removal of at-large candidates from the law during the training in response to a question asked by former Senator Usie Richards, one of the handful of attendees.

“We don’t know why it was changed, but I know it was changed,” Alexandre said while conducting the training, which will also be offered at 5:30 p.m. today at the ESVI office on St. Thomas. “There is a little concern that we do have.”

St. Croix Deputy Supervisor of Elections Terrell Alexandre, left, reviews documents with former Senator Usie Richards while conducting training for delegate candidates for the Sixth Constitutional Convention on how to complete the nomination petition Tuesday evening at the Elections System of the Virgin Islands in the Sunny Isle Shopping Center.
St. Croix Deputy Supervisor of Elections Terrell Alexandre, left, reviews documents with former Senator Usie Richards while conducting training for delegate candidates for the Sixth Constitutional Convention on how to complete the nomination petition Tuesday evening at the Elections System of the Virgin Islands in the Sunny Isle Shopping Center.

The law has been amended twice by Act Nos. 8734 and 8788 to remove references to at-large delegates, among other things to include extending the timelines for convening the convention and adopting a proposed constitution. Both updates to the law came about with the adoption of non-germane amendments tacked on to other bills during legislative session without providing an opportunity for senators to debate.

Act No. 8788 amended the law to clarify that every qualified voter may vote for no more than seven candidates for the legislative district for which the voter is a resident, totaling 14.

The Elections System questioned how the 15th delegate would be elected, as well as how it would be done to ensure St. John residency.

“It’s an issue because we don’t know how the individual from St. John will run,” Alexandre said Wednesday, noting candidates from St. John have previously run for at-large delegate. “That’s our understanding of what should have happened, but as of right now, we don’t know how the person from St. John will take the vote.”

St. Croix Deputy Supervisor of Elections Terrell Alexandre, left, conducts training for delegate candidates for the Sixth Constitutional Convention on how to complete the nomination petition Tuesday evening at the Elections System of the Virgin Islands in the Sunny Isle Shopping Center.
St. Croix Deputy Supervisor of Elections Terrell Alexandre, left, conducts training for delegate candidates for the Sixth Constitutional Convention on how to complete the nomination petition Tuesday evening at the Elections System of the Virgin Islands in the Sunny Isle Shopping Center.

The Elections System, however, offered a recommendation to the office of Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. to clear up the issue.

Alexandre wrote an email on December 15, 2023 to Shawna Richards, the Senate president’s chief of staff, suggesting to amend Act No. 8681 to include language from the Virgin Islands Code, Title 2, Section 102, which speaks to the apportionment of the Legislature. ESVI indicated that adding Section 102 would make the St. John position at large, allowing voters to select seven delegates per district, and one at-large delegate. ESVI further suggested in the email to amend the law to clarify that every qualified voter may vote for no more than seven candidates for the legislative district for which the voter is a resident, and for no more than one candidate for at-large delegate.

Shawna Richards confirmed on Wednesday that she and Francis are working with ESVI on an amendment to make the needed corrections. Francis, in a statement received later that day, said the Senate is working collaboratively with the Elections System to make the needed changes to Act No. 8681. He noted that ESVI previously provided language to clarify Act No. 8681, and has since provided additional language to correct any lingering oversights.

“For example, the inclusion of Title 2, Section 102, and other small changes will make the selection of delegates consistent with the territory’s voting process and allow for the selection of an at-large delegate,” Francis said in a statement. “Our collective goal is to ensure that no voter or district is disenfranchised, and I am confident that the proposed amendment will accomplish this goal.”

Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. is working with the Elections System of the Virgin Islands on an amendment to make the election of delegates for the Sixth Constitutional Convention consistent with the territory’s voting process by allowing for the selection of an at-large delegate.
Senate President Novelle Francis Jr. is working with the Elections System of the Virgin Islands on an amendment to make the election of delegates for the Sixth Constitutional Convention consistent with the territory’s voting process by allowing for the selection of an at-large delegate.

At-Large Senator Angel Bolques Jr., the sole senator elected from St. John, stressed the importance of having an at-large delegate elected to the constitutional convention, calling it a requirement for Love City. He pointed out electing only 14 delegates could ultimately result in a stalemate when it comes to voting on a proposed constitution.

“We want to have that balancing accommodation to be sure that there’s a swinging vote that would decide something, rather than a stalemate, so that is very, very important for me,” he said.

Former Senator Janelle Sarauw, who proposed the initial legislation establishing the Sixth Constitutional Convention, commented on the fact that her measure, Bill No. 34-0153 (Act No. 8681), was amended to remove at-large delegates, and will be further amended to include them again.

“Honestly, it kind of boils down to politics,” she said.

Sarauw said there should be at-large representation when it comes to drafting a constitution because it’s a collective document.

“I think it’s interesting that it was already in, they took it back out, and now they’ve returned back to square one,” she said.

The former senator, who ran in the 2022 general election as former Senator Kurt Vialet’s running mate in the gubernatorial race, said there should be at-large delegates based on the territory’s geographical makeup.

“When you allow for at-large delegates to be voted upon, you are in fact expanding the idea of democracy; you’re allowing more people to participate in the process for a document that will govern them for generations to come,” Sarauw said.

Abdul Ali asks a question during a training session for delegate candidates for the Sixth Constitutional Convention on how to complete the nomination petition Tuesday evening at the Elections System of the Virgin Islands in the Sunny Isle Shopping Center
Abdul Ali asks a question during a training session for delegate candidates for the Sixth Constitutional Convention on how to complete the nomination petition Tuesday evening at the Elections System of the Virgin Islands in the Sunny Isle Shopping Center.

The previously-made amendments to the law establishing the Sixth Constitutional Convention also update the timelines so that delegates shall convene in January 2025 and adopt a proposed constitution by October 31, 2025. Upon approval by not less than a majority of the voters participating in a referendum, which must be broadcast and published from May 1, 2026 until the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November 2026, the constitution becomes effective March 31, 2027.

Tom Eader is the Chief Reporter for WTJX. Originally from South Bend, Indiana, Eader received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Ball State University, where he wrote for his college newspaper. He moved to St. Croix in 2003, after landing a job as a reporter for the St. Croix Avis. Eader worked at the Avis for 20 years, as both a reporter and photographer, and served as Bureau Chief from 2013 until their closure at the beginning of 2024. Eader is an award-winning journalist, known for his thorough and detailed reporting on multiple topics important to the Virgin Islands community. Joining the WTJX team in January of 2024, Eader brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the newsroom.
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