Nov. 8, 2002 – Two days after the general election, Attorney General Iver Stridiron confirmed that should Gov. Charles W. Turnbull no longer have 50 percent of the vote plus one after the tabulating of absentee ballots, there will be a runoff election between Turnbull and John de Jongh Jr.
Stridiron told Radio One on Friday morning it was originally speculated that if second-place candidate de Jongh were to concede the election to Turnbull, the absentee ballots in the governor's race would not be counted. But the attorney general said a close reading of the Organic Act showed that was not correct. Voters have the franchise, he said, meaning the right to have their votes counted.
He also said that under the law, if Turnbull's share of the vote cast drops below a majority — the 50 percent plus one, "We are mandated to conduct a runoff."
John Abramson, supervisor of elections, said such a runoff would be on Nov. 19.
There were 1,274 absentee ballots sent out, 659 on St. Thomas and 615 on St. Croix. Abramson was reluctant on Tuesday night to speculate on how many might be returned. However, he did say the ballots, which must be postmarked by Nov. 5, must be received within 10 days of election day — or Nov. 15, which is when the tabulating will begin.
In an opinion sent to Abramson on Friday, Stridiron said that absentee votes cannot be counted until 10 days after the general election, which is four days before a runoff election would be held. Although the timing might "present a challenge" to the district Boards of Elections, he said, "the statutorily imposed 10-day waiting period to begin tabulation of absentee votes [must] be followed."
Stridiron told the Source, "To start counting those ballots now could cause all kinds of problems. Mistakes could be made." Watchers must observe the counting, he noted, and "You would have watchers and board employees there for 10 days."
Stridiron said he does not expect the counting itself to be a problem. "The board should be able to count all those [absentee ballots] in one day," he said.
"Spoiled" ballots would be counted in the runoff, meaning that any ballot that shows a vote for a gubernatorial candidate would be tabulated.
The attorney general also said the runoff would have to be between Turnbull and the second-place finisher, mathematically certain still to be de Jongh even after the absentee votes are tabulated. A concession on the part of de Jongh could not be treated as a withdrawal, Stridiron explained in his letter to Abramson, because no candidate can withdraw after the second Monday in August.
Although the "attempt to withdraw by candidate de Jongh would be a 'class act,'" the attorney general wrote, "it would not have the effect of disqualifying de Jongh as a candidate or of certifying Gov. Turnbull as the winner." Therefore, if Turnbull does not have the 50 percent plus one vote after the absentee ballots are tabulated, "then by law there must be a runoff election between Gov. Turnbull and John de Jongh."
Concerning absentee ballots to be cast in a runoff and the laws governing mailing and receipt of those ballots, Stridiron told Abramson that such ballots should now "be sent out immediately to all those absentee voters who voted in the general election," and that Abramson should "inform the absentee voters that it has not been determined whether a runoff election will be necessary, but that in an effort to afford them the right to vote in the runoff, should one become necessary, they are being sent the absentee ballots."
One potential fly in the ointment came to light Friday afternoon. Stridiron said military absentee ballots have 30 days, not 10, in which to arrive — which would be after the scheduled date for the runoff election. Asked how the overlap would be resolved if the count were close, he did not have an immediate answer.
However, he did say he has already approached Turnbull about forming a commission within the next year to study and propose revisions to the current elections laws.
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