Reapportionment Initiative Fails to Come Close to Required Turnout

A Joseph Sibilly polling judge waits for voters at the Lockhart Elementary polling place on St. Thomas.
A Joseph Sibilly polling judge waits for voters at the Lockhart Elementary polling place on St. Thomas.

The results of Saturday’s special election on the reapportionment initiative are still unofficial but the turnout of only 4,676 voters, including the early voting numbers, showed that the initiative has failed to reach the critical voter threshold.

“We didn’t meet the threshold at all. The initiative, in terms of it being passed, that’s not going to happen,” said Election Board Chairman Raymond Williams.

The total does not include St. John numbers, but they are not expected to push the totals much higher. For perspective, the St. John precincts only reflected 5 percent of the total ballots in the territory during early voting. Even if every single registered voter on St. John had voted, the measure still would not have come close to passing.

The initiative needed a simple majority of all registered voters to cast a ballot, roughly 25,872 out of the 51,741 registered voters in the territory. As of 7:40 p.m., the St. Croix numbers were at 1,852 while St. Thomas-St. John numbers stood at 857. Even with early voting numbers, which stood at 1,967, the total ballots cast for the special election – 4,676 – did not come close to the required number. That is very close to the 4,540 votes cast in the 2017 special election that brought Sen. Janelle Sarauw into the body. But it is half the turnout level because the 2017 election was only in the St. Thomas/St. John district. The unofficial count amounts to a turnout of nine percent of registered voters.

The failure of Saturday’s special election to meet the threshold renders the actual results immaterial.

As of 7:30 p.m., when the St. Thomas-St. John numbers were still unavailable, Election Board Chairman Raymond Williams declined to say definitively that the initiative failed, but the St. Thomas-St. John district in general has been trailing behind St. Croix throughout the day. At noon, Election Supervisor Caroline Fawkes reported a turnout of 800 for the St. Croix district, and 330 for the St. Thomas-St. John district. At 3 p.m., the numbers surged to 1,162 for St. Croix and 579 for St. Thomas-St. John.

A Joseph Sibilly poll worker answers a questions from a lone voter.
A Joseph Sibilly poll worker answers a questions from a lone voter.

The reapportionment initiative pushed by the St. Croix Government Retirees, Inc., placed a yes-or-no question on the ballot, asking voters if they were in favor of restructuring the Virgin Islands Legislature. The proposal would have split the territory into five districts: St. Thomas East, St. Thomas West, St. Croix East, St. Croix West, and St. John. Each district would be allocated two senators each, except for St. John, which would only get one senator.

Under the initiative, all voters would get to elect six at-large representative, instead of one at-large senator in the current structure.

Siblings Mary and Mario Moorhead were at the forefront of the campaign for the reapportionment initiative, using various platforms and media to advocate for the restructuring leading up to special election.

The counts throughout the day reflected some poll judges’ experiences on St. Thomas, where polling places saw very little traffic. Jacqueline Callwood, polling judge for the Charlotte Amalie High School Gym precinct, said the turnout was slow as of 3 p.m. She said at noon, 19 people had voted in her precinct, another 30 by 2 p.m., reaching at total of 62 voters at 3:40 p.m.

“That’s not a lot,” Callwood said. “Listening to some people, I would hear them say they could have waited until the next election, that they needed more time, and if they had more time, they’d do better.”

“Depending on the outcome, we can do better with more education,” she added.

Karen Blyden, polling judge at the Oswald Harris Court, shared a similar story, saying the turnout was very low. At around 10 a.m., only three people had voted, and by 3 p.m., her precinct reflected only 15 total voters.

Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory (D-STT) was one of the 62 voters at the CAHS Gym precinct as of 3:40 p.m. on Saturday.
Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory (D-STT) was one of the 62 voters at the CAHS Gym precinct as of 3:40 p.m. on Saturday.

Based on my experience, people haven’t come out because they don’t fully understand the bill. They were misinformed or they just don’t care about what’s happening in their community,” Blyden said.

On St. Croix, the numbers were easily in the double digits, even in the earliest counts. Jasmine John, polling judge at Juanita Gardine Elementary School, reported 27 voters at 10 a.m., 26 at noon, and 40 at, for a total of 103. Some St. Croix voters said they were not surprised at the poor showing.

“I’m not disappointed, not surprised and not discouraged by the poor turnout,” said Naima Hakim, who has lived on St. Croix since the 1970s. “The Legislature knew what they were doing. It’s almost an impossible bar to reach the first time.”

A new voter named Rob, who has been living on St. Croix for only a year, said he had hoped to see more people at the polls on Saturday.

“I’ve read a lot of opinions. I heard 70 shots last night in town. It had to be an automatic. If we had a senator accountable for that specific area, maybe he or she could get to the bottom of why those shots happened,” he said.

Lillie Watts-Sedahl has lived on St. Croix for 28 years.

“I feel that we have senators that should be made accountable for each of their districts on the island,” she said.

“People got a lot of chat,” said a voter named Isaac, who was born and raised on St. Croix. “That’s why nothing is going to change. They stay home instead of making their voice heard at the polls. Baltimore has a population of 600,000 with four senators. We have a population of 110,000 with 15 senators. And look at the difference in pay.”

Norma Dejournette, who has lived on St. Croix since the 1960s, said she was grateful to Mario Moorhead for explaining the initiative and for speaking up.

“With all the complaints that people have in the streets, wouldn’t it be great if we had senators in our own district to do something about it? I didn’t have any idea of what [the initiative] was and how and who it would benefit. I see that we’re talking about a system that will be more beneficial to everyone, fairer,” Dejournette said.

Williams, who visited four mid-island precincts on St. Croix, said he was disappointed with the turnout.

“One of the takeaways is that either people aren’t interested, or people aren’t taking the opportunity to utilize that right to vote. In my mind, I was dismayed because whether you support it or not, the relevance of your voting, it’s a right. It’s not just an opportunity, it’s a right to vote. The fact that people aren’t turning out, I think is kind of disappointing.”

Williams said even without the official count, the board would know by the time the polls closed if the initiative survived. In spite of the dismal turnout, Williams said the Election Board is mandated to go through the whole election process, canvassing the results and waiting for the few mail-in ballots, but it would not turn around the initial result.

“It doesn’t make a difference, no. If it doesn’t meet the threshold of the 25,000 plus votes, it doesn’t make a difference now,” Williams said. “As for informational value, educational value, I think it would.”

Hakim said the territory may not have heard the last of the effort to restructure the Legislature.

“I’m sorry that the people of the Virgin Islands have not fully realized how much power they can exercise over their government,” she said. “If an initiative fails, people will not give up. Sometimes it takes two, three or four attempts to make a change.”

Elisa McKay contributed to this story.