Sept. 22, 2001 – The panel of political experts discussing election reform Saturday was in total agreement on only one thing: the need for it. The single most popular idea after that seemed to be instituting a system of numbered legislative seats.
About 40 residents gathered at the Holiday Inn/Windward Passage Hotel to attend the forum sponsored by Sen. Lorraine Berry's Virgin Islanders for Democratic Action Club, and not all of them were Democrats.
Several speakers indicated they favored either districting or numbered seats, but some felt numbered seats was the easier goal to achieve.
Under a district system, each island would be divided into seven districts (or less, if the total number of senators is reduced). A candidate would run from a specific district, opposed only by any other or candidates from the same district.
In the numbered seats system, a candidate would declare he or she was running for a specific seat, and thus go head-to-head only with any others running for that same seat.
John Abramson Jr., supervisor of elections, referred to the current system for electing senators as a "free-for-all" in which all of the candidates in a given district run against one another, with the top seven being the winners. Another panelist, former St. Thomas senator Arturo Watlington, state chair of the Democratic Party, called it "hodgepodge."
The system favors independent candidates, Watlington said, since members of the same party or other philosophically affiliated individuals must compete with one another to get into the top seven. Nothing illustrates this better than recent elections in which the last two or three seats have been determined after the election by the count of a few hundred absentee votes.
Paul Leary, longtime professor of political science at the University of the Virgin Islands, said under the current system "the most demagogic thrive" and "politics becomes a matter of personalities and maneuvering for narrow advantage, rather than a disciplined approach to solving complex issues."
St. Croix attorney and talk show host Maxwell McIntosh said numbered seats would put an end to bullet voting, the practice of voting for only one candidate, rather than seven, and thus multiplying the effect of that one vote.
Watlington circulated copies of his 1999 proposal for numbered seats, updated for possible use.
Former St. Croix senator Arnold Golden noted that the electorate has the right to initiate legislation and said he has petitions to begin the initiative process for numbered seats. He called the action a "short-term solution."
Golden was unable to attend the forum but sent written remarks, which McIntosh read.
McIntosh and Golden also mentioned municipal governments, Steve Black of St. John focused on that concept in his remarks. He argued that "island councils is the missing ingredient" of the local government and that they would "bring people back into the process." St. John is not represented now, he said, for even the senator who is supposed to be a St. John resident is elected not by St. Johnians, but at large.
Leary offered hope to St. John.
While under the U.S. one-man, one-vote rule, the island's population is too small to command a representative in the Legislature, he said, there is precedent in the Northern Marianas for small islands to have representation in local government.
Panelist Malik Sekou, who doubled as moderator, called for a decision on status and the development of a V.I. Constitution as well as the creation of an Electoral Reform Commission.
The forum was markedly cordial. It began on a somber note, with a rendition of "America," followed by a moment of silence for the victims in the terrorist attacks and also for the late Mario de Chabert.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here