The V.I. Board of Elections on Monday admonished Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes, who last week unilaterally ordered Elections offices to close as a result of the governor’s stay at home order.
The board, calling an emergency meeting to address the matter, insisted that election workers are “essential” in an election year, and are required to work in accordance with Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s executive order.
Board members called on Fawkes to reverse her decision so as not to disenfranchise voters who wish to register for the upcoming general election.
“We should not be closing, especially now while we’re in the height of preparing for the general election,” said Board Chairman Raymond Williams.“I didn’t see any true reason for the [Elections] System to shut down.”
Fawkes said her decision was based solely on the health and welfare of Elections staff, particularly on St. Thomas, where COVID-19 cases are surging.
“This is not a concern to be playing with — it’s life or death,” she said.
Board members said mitigation efforts have been taken at all three offices to protect against COVID-19. They agreed, however, to open offices on a limited basis only and with minimal staff. As such, the board approved a motion to reopen offices starting today, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a minimum of two staff members present. The St. Croix and St. Thomas offices will be open Monday through Friday, while the St. John office will be open on Tuesday and Thursday.
The board also approved a motion to enhance communication between the board and elections staff. Board members voiced their dismay that Fawkes didn’t notify them of her decision to close the offices prior to notifying the public via press release on Friday. “I think the supervisor should have picked up a phone and called us. Just making a unilateral decision created this problem,” Williams said.
The board approved a motion to have any press release from the Elections System be sent to the board first before going out to the public.