The international team that observed the February general election has provided a sound roadmap for badly needed election reforms in the Virgin Islands. If the new government is serious about the transparency and good governance it promised during the campaigns, it will follow their advice straightaway.
Most of the team’s recommendations are not new, and many have been made for more than a decade by previous observers, VI election officials and other experts.
The observers’ final report, which was released last week, recommends campaign finance reform; fixed-date elections; a public education campaign; updating the Elections Act; a review of suffrage rights; a census and district boundary review; a better code of conduct; and the creation of an election commission, among other measures.
Most of these steps are no-brainers that should have come long ago, and all of the recommendations are worthy of careful consideration.
Campaign finance laws and other related reforms are particularly important in a modern democracy given the allegations of inappropriate behaviour that have swirled during previous election seasons.
The observers did find that the February election was free and fair, but bringing processes up to international best-practice standards will help reassure that public that future elections are aboveboard and untainted by nefarious behaviour.
Though we see no reasonable argument to be made against the great majority of the recommended reforms, successive governments have repeatedly failed to act on such advice.
The previous government took some steps in the right direction when it implemented electronic vote-counting and an election code of conduct that left much to be desired. But we were disappointed that it did not make more headway, especially given that it had eight years in office to get the job done.
The new government must do better. Starting as soon as possible, its leaders should put their heads together and closely review the observers’ report. Then they should go to the public with a proposal for the way forward that implements the recommended reforms in a timely manner. After hearing from the public — which we suspect would overwhelmingly support most of the recommendations — the government should proceed apace.
We note that the observers rightly urged that the reforms be completed at least a year before the next election. Time, then, is of the essence.
Comprehensive election reform would greatly strengthen this democracy, and it should have happened long ago.