After a week of wading through general election ballots, Tuesday's runoff count was by contrast finished in record time, with system officials posting by 10 p.m. unofficial results showing that gubernatorial candidate Kenneth Mapp had won with 15,268 votes, while opponent Donna Christensen brought in 8,573.
There were no stormy weather conditions to deal with this time around and few glitches at the polls, but St. Thomas-St. John Elections officials said turnout out for Tuesday's runoff was still low, with the district showing only approximately 11,000 residents coming out to vote.
“What I have been hearing from residents is that there is a huge amount of voter apathy,” said St. Thomas-St. John District Elections Board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. as the counting began Tuesday night on St. Thomas.
“There's a huge amount of economic despair in the community and voters no longer have any trust in government,” Watlington said. “The rumors, innuendo, advertisements on the radio, all the controversy over the past few weeks … they have just added to it and done a good job of ruining voter confidence in the process.”
This didn't bode well for Christensen, whose numbers remained steadily behind Mapp's as the first set of jump drives came into the St. Thomas Elections headquarters close to 8 p.m.
As the general election count progressed over the last two weeks, Christensen had kept her lead in the St. Thomas/St. John district, but Tuesday's results showed a turnaround. The first set of numbers had Mapp bringing in 62 percent of the vote, with 467 votes to Christensen's 287. The pattern continued throughout the night, and by 9:45 p.m. – with 12 precincts in the district counted and two left to go – Mapp was still up, 3,407 to Christensen's 2,742 votes.
On St. Croix they were dancing in the streets – and the parking lot – even before the final votes were counted as the Mapp/Osbert Potter ticket pulled ahead of Christensen/Basil Ottley.
During the day the streets were empty except in front of polling sites where crowds of supporters cheered for their candidates.
Inside Juanita Gardine Elementary School, poll watchers reported about the same number of voters by noon as for the general election.
Masserae Webster, poll judge at Pearl B. Larsen Elementary School, said it had been “kind of slow but steady,” with 664 ballots cast during the morning. She added that only two ballots were “spoiled,” referring to dozens rejected in the Nov. 4 election.
On St. Thomas, residents at the polls said Mapp, in the now three times he has run for governor, had built up a solid support base that has continued to grow over the years. While many talking to the Source didn't want to give their names, several said that they supported Mapp because they believed he would move quickly to deal with issues like the Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause and help bring down the rates.
“I liked hearing from both candidates throughout the process but, in the end, Delegate Christensen only had one message out there and it was always the same,” one voter said. “With Mapp, he talked about everything. You always heard what he wanted to do about crime, about education and health care, and it was all over the place.”
From the beginning on St. Croix, the Mapp team garnered almost two to every one vote for Christensen. At 8:15 p.m. Mapp led 1,450 to Christensen’s 713 on St. Croix with three precincts counted. Fifteen minutes later, 14 polling sites had reported, and Mapp had 5,937 votes and Christensen had 2,794.
The last totals reported by the Elections System were at 9:30 p.m. with 33 of 37 precincts counted. At that point Mapp/Potter had 15,268 votes and Christensen lagged behind with 8,573. Mapp apparently has easily won both districts.
Hundreds of Mapp backers gathered early at his Sion Farm headquarters. Food and drinks were served inside while people watched results and outside a band played for the celebrating crowd.
There also were Mapp and Christensen supporters outside the Elections System office where board members were reconciling the ballots.
Before many precincts were tallied, Mapp supporter Vera Falu, retired director of Human Services, leaned over and said, “You can report that Mapp is the eighth elected governor of the Virgin Islands.” Even without support from the board of elections, the people won, she added.
“I haven’t seen such a show of confidence since the election of Gov. Juan Luis,” Falu said.
At 10 p.m., Governor-elect Mapp reportedly was on St. Thomas scheduled to return to St. Croix later in the evening. By 11:20, it was reported that Mapp was already at his headquarters on St. Croix.
According to Watlington, there are at most 2,000 to 3,000 absentee ballots still out there, but they are not enough to change the results of the election.
“There are not that many votes left,” he said. The St. Thomas-St. John board will begin its absentee ballot count Wednesday at 4 p.m. and will be holding its regular monthly district board meeting on Thursday, Watlington said.
According to Elections Supervisor Carolyn Fawkes, there were about 200 mail-in, 30 emailed and approximately 300 walk-in votes to be tallied on St. Croix, probably on Wednesday.
“The run-off went smoothly. We adapted, adjusted, accomplished,” Fawkes said.
The election won’t be certified for 10 days – the deadline for absentee ballots.