St. John Elections Official Loses Appeal to Supreme Court

ST. THOMAS — A few months before the 2016 General Election, St. John’s representative on the district board of elections decided to run for the Senate. When the Supervisor of Elections said she could, but only if she gave up her seat on the board, Ivy Moses went to court.

Now the VI Supreme Court has rendered its opinion on the territory’s resign-to-run law.

The law prohibits elected officials serving on the elections board from running for another public office while still holding their seat. Candidates running for other elected offices are not bound by that law.

The ruling, issued said members of the elections board cannot be viewed in the same light as other government employees. They have the power to administer the placement of officials in the first and second branches of government — legislative and executive — that cannot be found elsewhere.

That power, the justices said, has to be respected and has to be handled in a way that shows respect for the public interest.

Chief Justice Rhys Hodge and Associate Justices Ive Arlington Swan and Maria Cabret also rejected the argument made by board members that requiring them to give up their seat in order to run for a different office violated their Constitutional rights and denied them equal protection under law.

Moses was joined by board members Lawrence Boschulte, Arturo Watlington Jr., Alecia Wells, Lydia Hendricks, Glen Webster and Barbara McIntosh. Webster and McIntosh serve on the St. Croix District elections board; Boschulte, Watlington, Wells and Hendricks serve in the St. Thomas-St. John District.

In May of 2016 Moses filed candidacy papers to run for a seat in the 32nd Legislature. Fawkes issued a Notice of Defect, citing Title 18 of the Virgin Islands Code, Section 2.

Either Moses could resign to run for the Senate, or she could continue to serve and wait to run for Senate after her term expires.

Moses chose the latter but challenged the policy in court.

Hodge, Swan and Cabret said in any given elections cycle there could be enough members running for reelection that the remaining membership could fall short of a quorum. That, they said, would bring about the circumstance the Legislature was most concerned about.

The high court also pointed to a matter of influence.

They outlined several scenarios where conflicts of interest between the duties of an elected board member and a potential candidate for a first- or second- branch office could influence they way they carry out those duties.

There is also the potential that board members aspiring to an office in Government House or the Legislature could retaliate against other board members or staff members if they lose the election.

Conflicts of interest would arise naturally, they said, even if unintended.

There was also an analysis of ways the candidates’s First Amendment rights were not violated by 18 V.I.C., Sec. 2.

Justices acknowledged the stance of the lower court in the original ruling that there was some measure of infringement, but a minor one.

“Thus, the Superior Court determined that the burden on First Amendment interests is ‘insignificant’ and that the resign-to-run provision only constitutes a ‘de minim[i]s interference’ that is warranted by ‘[t]he Territory’s interests in maintaining functioning boards of election,’” they said.

There are also many First Amendment rights attached to running for office that resign-to-run leaves intact.