Republicans Plan Primary Without Elections Office

If the Elections System of the Virgin Islands cannot hold primary elections, the Republican Party plans to do it themselves. (Submitted photo)

The Republican Party in the Virgin Islands plans to run its own primary if the Elections System of the Virgin Islands cannot, according to a letter received by the Source Tuesday.

The note on Republican Party letterhead asked Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes and the Board of Elections to confirm by 5 p.m. Friday if the candidates chosen in the privately-run primary would appear on the 2024 General Election ballot.

The letter, signed by Republican Party in the Virgin Islands Chairman John Yob, was copied to members of the Virgin Islands Legislature. It claimed only candidates selected through the private primary process would be allowed to list themselves as Republicans on the General Election ballot.

“A candidate who filed for the primary election but was not nominated by the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands through its process would not be a lawful and legitimate Republican nominee for public office,” Yob purportedly said in the letter. “This letter shall serve as official notice that the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands is prepared to administer its own process to nominate Republican candidates for federal and territorial offices in the 2024 general election. A special meeting of the Republican State Committee is being called to officially authorize the process. Once authorized, we will inform you of the process.”

Yob did not immediately answer email, text, and voicemail messages requesting more information Tuesday afternoon and evening. Questions included how would the primary be tabulated, would the party procure voting machines or use another process, does the party have existing bylaws for such situations, and has the local Republican Party corresponded with the national party on the matter?

In January, the District Court had sided with the Republican National Committee and ruled portions of USVI elections laws unconstitutional. The ruling upended how primary elections worked in the territory. Unless new laws were passed, the Elections System would not be able to conduct a primary, Fawkes told the Legislature Monday.

While Government House representatives posted on social media that it was too late for a new law because rules prevented changes up to six months before an upcoming election, Fawkes wrote the Source Tuesday noting sleight-of-hand linguistic workarounds that had worked in the past.

By inserting the language “Notwithstanding Title 18” in a bill, the Legislature and governor ensured the 2020 and 2022 pandemic-era elections could be largely conducted by absentee ballot.

Election laws can be generally confusing and each state and territory has its own way of doing things. The mainland’s federal elections Electoral College — 538 electors divided across 50 states by population — has hundreds of millions of Americans scratching their heads every four years.

Primary elections are even more confusing. Some states’ political parties caucus. They get together in groups and try to talk out who they think would be the best choice. Other states hold ballot elections. Some allow only members of a party to vote in that party’s primary. Other states allow any registered voter to help pick their eventual ballot choices. Still, other states have some sort of hybrid primary system.

Barred from participating in federal elections, the U.S. Virgin Islands has its own primary and general election rules that are, naturally, confusing.

The window for candidates to file their paperwork with the Board of Elections opened Tuesday at noon — less than 24 hours after the primary election’s very existence was an open question juggled between all three branches of local government.