Elections Board Member Williams: Legislative Apportionment Initiative Unconstitutional
CHRISTIANSTED — The initiative changing the composition of the territory’s unicameral Legislature would disenfranchise voters and violate the principle of one-person, one-vote that has formed the basis of apportioning legislatures since a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the early 1960s.
“I applaud citizens of all political backgrounds stepping up and getting involved in their government, but the initiative as presented is deeply flawed and for that reason I cannot support it,” said V.I. Board of Elections member Jevon O.A. Williams of St. Croix, the Republican caucus leader. “As drafted it arbitrarily allocates, or apportions, the number of senators between our island communities without any regard for the actual population of each community, as determined when the census is taken every 10 years.”
Numerous U.S. Supreme Court rulings require state and local governments to use the population, as determined by census, in creating legislative districts and apportioning seats. As a result, a federal court challenge would likely determine that allocating a seat to the island of St. John disenfranchises voters on the much larger islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas. It is also constitutionally problematic to divide both St. Croix and St. Thomas into vague “east” and “west” legislative districts without precise boundaries based on the census and amended every 10 years when new official population numbers are released.
“I support the creation of single-senator legislative districts drawn by an independent commission to avoid gerrymandering with geographic boundaries determined by what the census has found to be the actual population of each community within each island,” Williams said. “Instead, this initiative arbitrarily creates legislative districts and assigns seats to these districts without any consideration of actual population, which as we all know has declined on each island since the 2010 census was released in 2011.”
If the initiative moves forward, Williams, in his official capacity as a member of the V.I. Board of Elections, will formally request a review by the U.S. attorney and the Voting Section of the U.S. Department of Justice to protect voters in the territory. He will also work with the congressional committees that oversee the territories in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to see if this would be better handled through an amendment to the Revised Organic Act.
Williams is also the V.I. national committeeman for the Republican Party. Republicans controls majorities in both houses of Congress.