U.S. District Court Construes Virgin Islands Law to Forbid Registered Party Members from Being Independent Candidates

On July 7, U.S. District Court judge Wilma Lewis, an Obama appointee, issued an opinion in Coffelt v Fawkes, civil-2014-025. The 41-page decision determines that in the U.S. Virgin Islands, registered party members are not permitted to be independent candidates.

Virgin Islands elects its Governor and its Lieutenant Governor on a joint ticket. Coffelt, a registered independent, filed a valid petition to be an independent candidate, but her Lieutenant Governor running mate, John Canegata, is a registered Republican. The Virgin Islands law does not actually say that an independent candidate must not be a registered member of a party. But the title of the section 342a of the law is “Prohibition against persons registered to a political party running as a no-party or independent candidate.”

The Supervisor of Elections interpreted the law to bar the ticket, and the judge ruled that the Supervisor’s interpretation is entitled to deference. The law would have permitted Canegata to change his registration from “Republican” to “independent” on the day he filed, but he apparently does not want to do that, because he is the chair of the Republican Party in the Virgin Islands and he is running for re-election as party chair in the party’s August primary. Thanks to Derek Muller for the link. Coffelt and Canegata have asked the Third Circuit to reverse the decision; see this story.

The Republican Party has no gubernatorial candidate this year. The only ballot-qualified party, other than the Democratic and Republican Parties, is the Independent Citizens Movement. It has a territorial legislator but it has no gubernatorial candidate this year either. There are some independent candidates for Governor/Lt. Governor this year besides the Coffelt-Canegata team. The independent petition deadline is October 5, 2014.

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