Forums Aim to Answer Public’s Questions About Reapportionment, Organizers Say

Mary Moorhead of St. Croix Government Retirees Inc. and brother, radio host and historian Mario Moorhead, testifying to the Legislature on St. Croix October 10, 2018. (Barry Leerdam photo courtesy of the V.I. Legislature)

A series of forums hosted by St. Croix Government Retirees, Inc. aims to clear up questions on the upcoming special election and reapportionment initiative that organizers say is becoming muddled with misinformation.

On St. Croix, the public forum is scheduled for Saturday, March 2 from 5-8 p.m. at the Educational Complex auditorium, while the forum for St. Thomas-St. John will be held Sunday, March 10 from 3-6 p.m. at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School cafeteria.

The forums answer a call recently made by V.I. Board of Elections members who say that even they need a better idea of what the initiative calls for.

During a recent meeting on St. Thomas-St. John, Board of Elections district committee members discussed being able to explain the initiative to poll workers who are tasked with helping voters at the polls. While the question on the ballot is a simple “yes” or “no,” many board members said that giving the public a better idea of what the initiative proposes – especially in the wake of several social media posts from sitting senators suggesting that the initiative be postponed until the next census – could only help.

Speaking to the Source, St. Croix Government Retirees, Inc. Special Projects Coordinator Mary Moorhead explained that the nuts and bolts of the proposal are contained in the sample ballot on the V.I. Elections System website. The initiative would change the two current voting districts, St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix, into five voting districts (creating two each for St. Thomas and St. Croix, and making St. John a district unto itself) and change the number of at-large senators that voters elect from one territorial candidate to six.

Moorhead said that historically, this structure is what was envisioned by Congress with the passage of the Revised Organic Act. There used to be seven district senators and four at-large, and it was the V.I. Legislature that created the current structure when the territory’s population boomed and the last reapportionment occurred in the 1960’s, she said.

“Congress assumed they would make it a 9-6, which is what we’re hoping to go to now,” Moorhead said.

The primary benefit of the initiative is to create “accountability” and give the people more oversight of their representatives, she said. Watching a Congressional session, voters are able to hold their representatives accountable for what does or doesn’t get done in their district, and this initiative will “bring that rule of oversight closer” to local voters, she explained.

Along with making St. John its own district, St. Thomas and St. Croix would also be divided into two districts each – east and a west – and representatives will be elected accordingly. But that’s where it ends, Moorhead said.

“Anything with term limits, salary, etc., that is still under the authority of the senators,” she said.

Moorhead added that if the initiative is passed, the Elections System will then be tasked with creating the districts.

“And that should be fairly easy,” she said. “Already by legislation, polling districts have been designated. Elections would simply have to look at the data, see who goes where, and split it up accordingly.”