Democrat-Controlled Board Cancels GOP Primary in Virgin Islands

GOP accuses board of partisan shenanigans to ensure Democrat’s victory

Air Force veteran Gordon Ackley
Air Force veteran Gordon Ackley
August 10, 2016

Republicans in the American Virgin Islands claim that the territory’s Democrat-controlled government squashed their primary vote to keep the GOP off the November ballot.

The Virgin Islands Republican Party filed suit in the territory’s district court against the Joint Board of Elections for rejecting the party’s petition to hold a primary. The party says the board refused to recognize its call for a primary, nor did it notify Republicans about the state of its application until after the filing deadline had already passed. It is now suing to get the party’s nominee, Air Force veteran Gordon Ackley, onto the ballot.

"The Joint Board intentionally, maliciously and specifically waited until after the deadline for the submission of nomination petitions to notify the Republican Party of the Joint Board’s decision," the suit says.

Supervisor of Elections Caroline Fawkes told the Washington Free Beacon that she is aware of the lawsuit, but declined to comment beyond saying that "the Joint Board of Elections made the decision." Democratic Joint Board Chairman Arturo Watlington, Jr. did not respond to email seeking comment.

The Joint Board of Elections sent the GOP a letter on May 5 stating the "Joint Board would not allow the Republican Party to elect party officers at the primary election," according to the suit, which also claims that the Board ignored an order from the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands that the "Election System is required to conduct a full primary election." The suit says that the board purposefully waited until after the filing deadline to keep the GOP off the ballot.

The party held an emergency meeting the following day and on May 7 filed a petition to hold a nominating convention on June 11. The Board of Elections did not respond to this petition until June 1—two weeks after the filing deadline—at which point it rejected the GOP’s call for a convention.

The party went forward with its convention despite the Board’s rejection and nominated Air Force veteran Gordon Ackley to challenge incumbent Stacey Plaskett to represent the territory as a non-voting member of Congress.

Ackley accused the board of playing political games with the primary process.

"Instead of engaging me in a discussion, the incumbent congresswoman's partisans are rigging the system to deny Virgin Islanders a choice at the ballot box in November," Ackley said in an email. "Unfortunately, an election in Haiti has more creditability than Saturday’s Virgin Islands primary election, in which the Democrat-controlled Joint Board of Elections disenfranchised thousands of registered Republican voters and held a one-party vote."

John Canegata, chairman of the Republican Party of the United States Virgin Islands, called the process a "gross violation" of voting rights. The party intends to take the matter to the territory’s highest court if needed.

"This disenfranchisement is a gross violation of our voting rights and is aimed at rigging the system to ensure Virgin Islanders have no real choice in the general election," Canegata said in an email.

The Joint Board of Elections is still tallying ballots from the Aug. 6 primary.

Published under: 2016 Election