The Virgin Islands will take another stab at adopting a constitution after its citizens voted overwhelmingly in favor of it in a referendum on Tuesday.
Preliminary results showed that 8,320 people territory-wide voted “yes” to the referendum question, which asked voters whether they were in favor of the Legislature enacting legislation to convene a constitutional convention to adopt the Revised Organic Act, or portions of it, as the Virgin Islands constitution.
A total of 3,225 people voted “no.”
The large vote margin was promising for supporters like Gwen-Marie Moolenaar, president of the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands, which led a public education campaign on the matter.
“I was so elated with the results,” Moolenaar told The Daily News. “I had been worried because we lacked the funding to conduct what I thought would have been a solid public education program. But it appears that we did a reasonably good job in spite of it.”
Moolenaar said the pandemic, in its own way, helped them “make lemonade out of lemons,” since it forced people to stay home and perhaps take notice of the League’s exhaustive radio appearances, in which they discussed the issue.
“There were 18 such radio programs that I was on — I did a lot of talking,” Moolenaar said with a laugh. “I’m grateful to the voters who listened to the message and those who saw the sense of what we were trying to say.”
Sen. Myron Jackson, a primary sponsor of Bill 33-0292, which called for the referendum, said he was “especially pleased” with the result and the overwhelming desire of the Virgin Islands to have its own constitution.
“Having such a governing document will build upon the work of the past to grant our people greater freedom to manage our affairs and to shape our destiny,” Jackson said in a statement.
Tuesday’s vote means the Legislature must now put forth a bill to convene the territory’s sixth constitutional convention, which would come more than a decade after the fifth and nearly 60 years since the first.
Currently, the territory does not have its own dedicated constitution, relying instead on the Revised Organic Act of 1954. Despite five previous attempts, the territory has been unable to finalize the deal. In 2010, a proposal was sent to the federal government but pushed back after Congress pointed to several issues. The convention reconvened but failed to pass a new proposal before the deadline.
Moolenaar thanked Jackson for his advocacy in pushing for another attempt. She also thanked the voters, her colleagues and other advocates like Gerard Emanuel, an educator at the University of the Virgin Islands, who was part of the Fifth Constitutional Convention; and Malik Sekou, also an educator.
“I think the public is ready for it — they want to move forward,” she said. “There’s just two territories now without a constitution — the Virgin Islands and Guam. I think the voters are saying it’s time we move forward with this.”
In order for the referendum vote to have counted, a majority of voters who participated in the General Election had to answer the question. Since 20,486 ballots were cast as of Tuesday, a majority of voters — or 50% plus one — would be 10,244. Preliminary results showed that 11,545 voters answered the question, fulfilling the requirement.
Secondly, of the 11,545 voters, a majority had to answer in the affirmative in order for the referendum to pass. The 8,320 “yes” votes met this requirement.