Home News Local news BIG VOTER TURNOUT DELAYS START OF TABULATION

BIG VOTER TURNOUT DELAYS START OF TABULATION

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Nov. 5, 2002 – From first thing in the morning on election day, Virgin Island voters made their move towards the polls, standing in line for up to two and a half hours waiting to exercise their political will.
In fact, the strong turnout and the long lines that resulted delayed the start of tabulation of the votes. As of 7:45 p.m., no cartridges from voting machines had been tabulated at the offices of the Election System on either St. Croix or St. Thomas. Election officials said that was because, while the polls closed at 7 p.m., there were so many people in line at that time that it was taking a while for them all to vote.
At of 3 p.m., elections officials said, 11,635 people had cast their votes on St. Croix and 10,301 had done so on St. Thomas; St. John figures were not immediately available. Elections Supervisor John Abramson said he expected the final figures would show a turnout of 70 percent. With some 54,000 names on the V.I. rolls, that would be nearly 38,000 voters.
One longtime observer of the political scene, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the large field of candidates both for governor and for the 25th Legislature had to be a factor in the large turnout. "This time, everybody's got somebody to vote for," he said.
Gubernatorial candidates put in personal appearances at voting sites on St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix during the day, some expressing confidence, some expressing hope and others expressing satisfaction.
The incumbent, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said he was "cautiously optimistic," while his front-running opponent, John de Jongh Jr., summed up his election day prospects in two words: "One shot."
"I think we did accomplish a great deal in very difficult times, and the voters are willing to give us a chance to continue," the governor said as he savored the cool morning air at his first of many stops to greet supporters and voters.
At 7:30 a.m., Turnbull, Delegate Donna M. Christensen and at-large Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd were standing outside Guy Benjamin School, where campaign supporters were offering voters bush tea and dumb bread. Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II, Turnbull's running mate of four years ago turned into this year's challenger, showed up at the school later in the morning along with his running mate, Maryleen Thomas.
Christensen, seeking her fourth term in Congress, said she traditionally starts her election day rounds at the tiny polling place on St. John's East End. Although she got a late start campaigning, she said, she and her supporters worked hard, canvassing voters until Sunday and winding up the campaign with some five-minute radio spots in English and Spanish on St. Croix. "It's been a positive campaign. We worked hard," she said.
Traffic to the single ballot booth at Guy Benjamin was brisk. Two uniformed police officers outside the doors, and polls supervisor Yvonne Wells guarded the entrance, admonishing those handing out pamphlets to would-be voters at the last minute not to stray too close to the gate.
At St. John's other polling place, Julius E. Sprauve School in Cruz Bay, nearly 200 people had arrived to vote before 9 a.m., polls supervisor Madeline Sewer said.
Emerging from the polls after voting there, St. John entertainer Carl Power said he felt he had done his part. "I was terribly disappointed with the people who are in now," he said, referring to current office-holders, "so I went in there and voted for only new people."
On St. Thomas, long lines of voters similarly signaled enthusiasm and determination, sentiments that wouldn't wilt under a blazing morning sun. This year, the St. Thomas-St. John Board of Elections undertook to avoid the backups of years past at what had been the polling place serving the largest number of registered voters, Joseph Gomez School. They split the electorate there into three parts, sending some off to nearby E. Benjamin Oliver School and others to the Anna's Retreat Community Center in Tutu, and keeping some at Gomez School.
But there were long lines at Gomez Tuesday nonetheless. Campaign workers wearing Turnbull T-shirts won appreciation, if not votes, by handing out ice-cold bottles of water near the entrance to the polling place.
"I've been here since 9 o'clock, and it's 11:20 now," Leo Francis, former Public Works commissioner, said as he stood near the door at Gomez. "I appreciate their splitting off the various patrons, but they didn't provide enough machines and personnel for this location."
Inside, elections inspector Celecia Hernandez said there were more voting machines in place than two years ago, but at the same time, more voters were turning out to use them. "The last time, it was more congested, because we had more people," she said. "But this time, we're seeing more people — a lot more."
By afternoon, most of the major candidates were getting ready for their final round of appearances. De Jongh stopped by the Hometown Convenience Store overlooking Tutu for a cold drink while a car flying his pennant waited outside with the door open and the motor running. "We've just been around to some of the campaign places," he said. "We were out to St. John, checking on some of the schools there, and now we're heading for St. Croix."
Gubernatorial candidate Alicia "Chucky" Hansen rolled up to E. Benjamin Oliver with a motorcade playing hot Latin music. "From the time she showed up, it turned into a festival," voter Jean Forde said afterward.
Quietly and with no fanfare, candidate Hernando "Ike" Williams wound his way by foot to Gomez and the Anna's Retreat center, traveling by himself, wearing a hat and shades. "I'm just making a check to see what's going on," he said.
Williams said he was happy with the way his low-key, low-budget campaign went. "I don't know how the others feel, but I have given the facts to the people, and it's up to them to look at whatever facts they've been given and decide whatever they want," he said.
Also out checking the progress from voting place to place was Alecia Wells, the St. Thomas-St. John Elections Board chair. Observing the activity at Anna's Retreat, she said things were proceeding well for the most part.
"This poll is extra busy because this is one of the new polling places," she said of the Anna's Retreat center. She added, "This was a good idea, to divide Gomez, because it's working out well."
Asked to make his prediction for election night, de Jongh, a man of few words, said he was expecting victory on the first ballot. "One shot," he said.
An issue that remained a question mark throughout the day was that of residents of the British Virgin Islands voting in the election. The BVI allows its dual-citizenship residents to vote elsewhere, but Abramson has said U.S. citizens cannot vote in two jurisdictions. The Turnbull campaign organization ran advertising on a Tortola radio station last week urging "qualified voters" to travel from the BVI to the USVI to vote on Tuesday. Estimates of how many persons are registered voters in the territory but live in the BVI ranged from 500 to 2,000.
St. Thomas-St. John district Senate candidate Larry Boschulte said on Tuesday that the elections board spent Monday night cross-checking the territory's and the British Virgin Islands' voter rolls — and came up with 50 names that appeared on both lists.
Told that there were reports of 50 such names having been found, Wells replied that "no, it was much more than that." She declined to provide any details.

The Source's Shaun A. Pennington, Molly Morris, Valerie Lovett and Frank J. Jordan also contributed to this report.
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