Despite a months-long public education campaign by the University of the Virgin Islands and a day off for government employees, only 20 percent of registered voters in the Virgin Islands came out for the Tuesday, June 12, election of delegates to the Fifth Constitutional Convention.
Just 431 of 2,008 registered voters on St. John took part in the election. St. John residents Elsie Thomas-Trotman and Alecia Wells were elected as St. Thomas-St. John District delegates, while former Senator at Large Craig Barshinger was elected as a St. Thomas-St. John at large delegate.
The low turnout was noted by St. Thomas-St. John District delegate candidate Paul Devine, who campaigned all day at the Julius E. Sprauve School.
Low Turnout Expected
“My feeling is there hasn’t been enough education,” said Devine. “Most people don’t know there’s an election today, and they don’t care about the issues because they don’t know what the issues are.”
The low turnout was expected by V.I. Board of Elections officials, explained Supervisor of Elections John Abramson.
“We were hoping for more, but we looked at other special elections from 1979 through 1993 and we came up with projections of what the turnout may be,” said Abramson. “We were hoping we were wrong.”
Public Education Presents Challenge
Approximately 35 percent of registered voters participate in primary elections, and 65 percent participate in general elections.
“It’s hard to compare a special election to a general election or primary, because it’s like comparing apples and oranges,” said Abramson.
UVI’s Constitutional Convention Education Coor-dinator Tregenza Roach admitted he was open to improving the education campaign, he explained.
“I think anybody should always be open to ways in which they can improve whatever they’re doing,” said Roach. “I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t recognize that public education presents a challenge because you do not have a captive audience.”
The Constitutional Convention requires V.I. residents to be more educated than a primary or general election, explained Roach.
“The important thing to think about is that this really asks for the public’s engagement,” he said. “People go to the polls to vote for senators and governors, but if we say we’re going to do something like Continued from Page 6
float a pension bond, how many people know what that means? We have to be willing to reevaluate, try new methods and move forward.”
Getting People Interested
The education campaign has so far included public forums; newspaper, television and radio advertisements; and TV shows and radio talk shows.
Roach is optimistic that public interest will increase by the time the final Constitution is prepared and ready to be ratified.
“I believe we have begun to change the nature of public conversation, and we can continue to build on it so by the time the actual document is completed, people will be sufficiently involved and interested,” said Roach. “People will have to read it and understand it, so we’re up for a challenge in that regard. We will see what we can learn and how we can improve.”
St. Thomas-St. John at large delegate Barshinger recognizes the challenge he and the other delegates will face, he explained.
“The low voter turnout indicates that the most important thing to do in the next year as we write the Constitution is to expand public awareness, and in fact incorporate the public into the process of writing it,” said Barshinger. “If we fail to do that, the Constitution will fail to be ratified in 2008 because people will see it and say, ‘what is this?’ If we give the public a sense of ownership and participation, then we can count on a good Constitution, and one that people will be proud to rafity.”
Keeping Public Involved
Barshinger hopes to keep the public involved by a series of town meetings, a similar strategy he employed during his tenure as Senator at Large.
“I was big on town meetings when I was in the Senate, and I think that technique is a good idea,” said Barshinger. “Each time you have a town meeting, you have to market it and make its relevancy known to people, because I have noticed a pattern of people coming to the first or second meeting, and then the interest peters out. So we have to be very careful, but I think it’s a good idea to try town meetings to get people involved in this writing of the Constitution.”
Municipal government is one important issue Barshinger plans to tackle, he added.
“We will have some form of municipal government or island councils, which will bring government closer to the people,” said Barshinger. “As far as restructuring the government, I’m going to strongly focus and try to convince my colleagues that St. John needs representation unique to St. John. I believe the people of the Virgin Islands are ready and willing to give St. John the recognition is deserves as a distinct entity.”
Convention Opens July 23
The Constitutional Convention will officially open on July 23, when a president and other officers are selected. A proposed draft of the Constitution will be completed by July 27, 2008. Two-thirds of the delegates must vote to approve this draft, which is then sent to the governor, who sends the document to the U.S. President.
The President will have 60 days to review the Constitution and pass it along with his comments to the Congress, which will have 60 legislative days to review and amend the document.
The Constitution will then return to the V.I. to be voted on by registered V.I. voters.
For a complete list of election results, visit the Board of Elections Web site at www.vivote.gov.