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  11/14/2018 Court grants temporary restraining order to bar new voter registrations  
    
 

ST. THOMAS, V.I. – V.I. Superior Court Judge Denise Francois has granted a temporary restraining order “enjoining, restraining and prohibiting Defendant Arturo Watlington, in his capacity as Chairman of the Board of Elections and the Virgin Islands Board of Elections” from allowing voter registration in the St. Thomas-St. John district ahead of next week’s run-off election for governor and lieutenant governor.

            On Tuesday, United States Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Earl Walker filed a petition with the court seeking redress for violations of Virgin Islands elections law after the Department of Justice learned that a faction within the Territorial Board of Elections intended to register new voters for the Nov. 20 run-off election, for which early voting will commence on Saturday, Nov. 17.

            Commenting on the court’s ruling, AG Walker said, “This is a victory for common sense. We are very pleased with the distinguished judge’s decision. This is a US jurisdiction and so, we are governed by laws and not by men. It is a beautiful example of American democracy.”

            In his complaint to the court, AG Walker rehashed the following details that led to his seeking the court’s intervention:

On Nov. 6, citizens of the Virgin Islands participated in a general election to choose from seven teams their governor and lieutenant governor.  The results of that gubernatorial race did not produce enough votes for any one particular governor and lieutenant governor team as is required under the Revised Organic Act of 1954, as amended.  As a result, a run-off election between the top two candidates was scheduled for Nov. 20.  Members of the Board of Elections met on Nov. 9 to formulate policies for the upcoming gubernatorial run-off election and during that meeting, they discussed voter registration and the allowance of new voters registered from Nov. 13 through Nov. 16 to cast their ballots in the runoff.  Board of Elections Vice Chairman Raymond Williams made a motion to suspend registration of new voters until after the run-off election and contacted AG Walker for his opinion on whether the Board of Elections can resume the registration of voters during the period prior to the runoff and whether those persons registered during that period can vote in the runoff.

            AG Walker issued an advisory opinion on Nov. 10 stating that “only those individuals who were qualified to vote for the November 6th election are eligible to vote in the November 20th run-off election” and that the “scheduled run-off election is a continuation of the general election that was held on November 6th and, pursuant to V.I.C. § 94(c), the Board must not register new voters between today and five days after the run-off election occurs.”

            A day later, AG Walker and Board of Election members received an email from Watlington’s email address challenging the attorney general’s opinion.  “The AG has no influence or power over me.  No law quoted.  Other than the fear Mapp will be affected by new voters.  Those of u [sic] who agree with him hurry to Court please,” Watlington’s email reads.

            Judge Francois, in agreement with AG Walker’s position, wrote in her opinion dated Nov. 14 that “because Virgin Islands law is clear on the time period during which new electors or voters may be registered, the Government’s Motion will be granted with respect to its request for a Temporary Restraining Order.”

            The court further ordered that “Defendant Arturo Watlington, in his capacity as Chairman and as a member of the Board of Elections, is enjoined, restrained and prohibited from examining and registering new voters until five days after the November 20, 2018 runoff election; and it is further ordered that the Virgin Islands Board of Elections is enjoined, restrained and prohibited from examining and registering new voters until five days after the November 20, 2018 runoff election; and it is further ordered that Defendant Arturo Watlington, in his capacity as Chairman and as a member of the Board of Elections, is enjoined, restrained and prohibited from permitting any person who was not registered as an elector or voter thirty days before the November 6, 2018 general election from voting in the November 20, 2018 runoff election; and it is further ordered that the Virgin Islands Board of Elections is enjoined, restrained and prohibited from permitting any person who was not registered as an elector or voter thirty days before the November 6, 2018 general election from voting in the November 20, 2018 runoff election.”

            In deciding its motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, the court considered four factors – whether the movant has shown a reasonable probability of success on the merits; whether the movant will be irreparably injured by denial of the relief; whether granting preliminary relief will result in even greater harm to the nonmoving party; and whether granting the preliminary relief will be in the public interest.  The court found that the government has shown a reasonable probability of success on the merits; that the government has met its burden that the government or the public will suffer irreparable harm by denial of the relief; that there was no evidence that the Board of Elections will be harmed by the granting of the temporary restraining order; and that the public interest factor weighs heavily in favor of the government.   

 
  Court grants temporary restraining order to bar new voter registrations.pdf