Record Early Voting Numbers Not a Surprise

Early voting has ended and the numbers are record setting. For the territory, 11,829 voters cast ballots early. Of those, 6,191 were on St. Thomas; 5,251 were on St. Croix and 387 on St. John.

For the entire 2014 early voting period, the first gubernatorial election with early voting, 648 early ballots were cast on St. Croix; 1,901 on St. Thomas and 55 on St. John. The 2016 was a mid-term election with lower turnout.

History suggests more people likely will vote at the polls Nov. 6, but the level of early turnout is relatively massive. In 2014, the most recent general election with a governor’s race, 27,879 Virgin Islanders cast votes, for a turnout of 54.32 percent. If turnout is of a similar level this year, that means nearly half the voters have already voted.

Early voting has been on the rise throughout the USA in states that allow it. For example, The Raleigh News and Observer reported today that North Carolina has already seen over 1.22 million early ballots this year, with four days to go. In 2014, a total of 2.9 million North Carolinians cast ballots, so that state has already seen a similar proportion of early ballots as the USVI has this year.

While good news for democracy and voting in the territory, it is not clear this trend reflects greater enthusiasm or just greater awareness and comfort with early voting.

The law establishing early voting in the territory was enacted in 2014. The legislation was offered by Sen. Kenneth Gittens (D-STX) without fanfare or public hearings, as an amendment to another bill, during legislative session several weeks earlier in August 2014. The Legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto to enacted it into law Sept. 25, six weeks before the election. Another wrinkle that year, after setting up early voting, Fawkes suspended early voting on St. Croix following a V.I. Supreme Court order that Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen be removed from the ballot due to federal tax convictions. (See Related Links below.) As a result, there were six days of early voting on St. Croix but 11 on St. Thomas and seven on St. John. A gubernatorial pardon allowed Hansen to run that year but too late to be on the ballot.

The newness of the law and chaos during its initial implementation may have reduced turnout for early voting that year.