Nov. 4, 2002 – A 25-foot restriction on campaigning outside polling places will apply throughout the territory Tuesday as a result of a federal judge's ruling on Monday.
District Judge Raymond Finch granted the V.I. Democratic Party's request for a temporary restraining order that means those engaging in electioneering on St. Thomas and St. John won't have to stay a thousand feet away from the polls after all.
In enjoining the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections from "prohibiting political speech" during Tuesday's elections between 25 and 1,000 feet from polling places, Finch cited the need for consistency throughout the territory.
Elmo Adams Jr., the Democratic Party's St. Thomas-St. John District chair, filed for the restraining order on Friday, saying the thousand-foot perimeter set by the district board last summer was inconsistent with the 25-foot barrier set by the St. Croix board for its district.
Adams, a lawyer, called 1,000-foot regulation, which had replaced an earlier one of 25 feet, unreasonable and a violation of free speech rights. "We are very elated by the court's fast action and the court's decision on this motion," he said shortly after Finch issued the order.
The ruling quickly became an issue at a pre-election meeting of the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections at its headquarters on Crystal Gade in Charlotte Amalie. Elections Supervisor John Abramson Jr. declined comment on Finch's decision.
However, the temporary order covers only Tuesday's election. If there's a runoff on Nov. 19, things could change again. Finch told the parties to return to court on Nov. 14 to present their arguments for and against a permanent injunction. At that time, Adams said, he will present constitutional arguments on the free speech implications of outlawing electioneering within a thousand feet of the polls.
The 1,000-foot campaign-free zone came about a few months ago after another effort at restricting electioneering failed. In January, the Legislature overrode the governor's veto to enact a bill banning all campaigning after 2 a.m. on election days. That law was thrown out in District Court in August, after a member of the Democratic Party argued that it violated free speech, free assembly and free expression provisions of the Constitution.
The Joint Boards of Elections decided last summer to impose a thousand-foot barrier territorywide, and it was in place for the Sept. 14 primary election. Subsequently, however, the St. Croix board voted to revert to the 25-foot restriction. At that time, Abramson said the V.I. code allows each board to set the rules for its own district.
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