Federal court orders disqualified Virgin Islands candidate back on ballot

I've blogged about the extraordinary case in the U.S. Virgin Islands in which the territory's Supreme Court ordered a candidate's name (and seated Senator) to be removed from the ballot because it concluded she was not qualified for office because she had been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude (despite being seated for office twice before). The governor responded with something of a blunderbuss solution, pardoning her so that she could obtain ballot access.

That wasn't good enough for the Board of Elections, which had been dogged in its refusal to allow Alicia "Chucky" Hansen to obtain ballot access. It insisted it would need further clarification from the Supreme Court as to whether it could put Ms. Hansen on the ballot, and that it would not do so until so ordered. The pardon mooted her disqualification, months ahead of election day, but that wasn't enough for the board.

So several voters sued the board, in federal court, to reinstate her. Given the timing sensitivity, the proceedings moved quickly, and today the federal court granted their motion for a temporary restraining order. It concluded that she re-submitted her paperwork in a timely fashion (within three days of the Supreme Court's conclusion that she was disqualified), which cured the defective nomination papers. A PDF of the memorandum is available at Scribd.

It might be nearing the end of this saga, but it highlights a concern I raise in my forthcoming article, Scrutinizing Federal Electoral Qualifications. Put briefly, when non-voters and non-legislatures involve themselves in evaluating the qualifications of candidates for office--in this case, the board of elections and the territorial judiciary--unnecessary and unforeseen consequences arise. Reserving the matter of legislative qualifications to voters and the legislature itself helps avoid these problems, minimizes litigation, maximizes electoral opportunities for voters, and ensures a robust separation of powers.