Planning guide for Constitutional Convention

Planning guide for Constitutional Convention

Constitutional Convention delegate Adelbert Bryan, left, speaks in 2009 at the New Drive Inn on St. Croix.

Dear Editor,

Now that the Constitutional Convention Referendum has been met with resounding success what’s the next step? Well, now it’s up to our senators to draft and pass legislation that would convene a 6th Constitutional Constitution. Let me offer a few suggestions:

Virtual meetings: Except for special in-person meetings, the convention can be virtual. Delegates can interact via Zoom, Teams, WebEx or some other internet platform that allows for full participation. As a backup, the Legislature can designate areas for internet access, computers and other resources that may be needed.

Choosing delegates: There are three options out of available, reasonable approaches for choosing delegates. This proposal favors electing a majority of the delegates, however, individuals also can be appointed or chosen by a different method established by the Legislature. Due to the importance of this endeavor, delegates should secure their place in history via popular vote.

Delegate composition No. 1: Thirty-five delegates comprising 32 delegates elected by Virgin Islands voters and three appointed delegates — one from each branch of government.

The elected delegates are divided into district and at-large delegates. Thus, 26 district delegates would be selected from 13 designated polling places in the Virgin Islands. Six at-large delegates would be divided equally between the two districts in the Virgin Islands. Three must be residents of St. Croix and three must be residents in the St. Thomas-St. John District. Each district will select three at-large delegates. Each polling place would elect one delegate, for a total of 13 from the district. A candidate must be registered to vote at a particular polling place and would have to be elected by a plurality vote for the district.

Delegate composition No. 2.: Twenty-nine delegates consisting of three appointed from each branch of government. Each polling place would elect one delegate for a total of 26 delegates.

Delegate composition No. 3: Thirty-three delegates with three appointed from each branch of government. Delegates would be elected by a plurality vote where the highest number of vote-getters reaching 15 would qualify to serve as a delegate to the 6th Constitutional Convention.

This proposal envisions passage of a law during this lame duck session. Senators who voted for the initial measure would have an opportunity to be part of the legislation forming the 6th Constitutional Convention. This process envisions an election on March 31, with a convention to convene thereafter.

The financial aspect of the convention would be based on equal contributions from each branch of government to the 6th Constitutional Convention fund. This would mean the Legislature would have to adjust the budgets of each branch of government accordingly. Each branch would need to contribute at least $150,000 to make at least $450,000 available to the convention when needed. If more money is needed for a public education campaign, research and expert guidance and miscellaneous expenses such as food, drink, internet service, the delegates would have to identify the expense and cost and present it to the legislatures finance committee for appropriation.

Money to the Elections System of the Virgin Islands: Since the legislation requires all polling centers to be open, money to ESVI should be comparable to the money for a general election in the territory.

This law should recognize that portions of the Revised Organic Act can be used as a template along with the other constitutional drafts or documents that were not adopted. The legislation used to convene the 5th Constitutional Convention is a good template for the 33rd Legislature to use when drafting this legislation. A 6th Constitutional Convention is needed for our territory to move forward in the pursuit of more self-determination.

— Attorney Ronald Russell, a former Senate president, resides on St. Croix.