On March 30, 2019, voters in the U.S. Virgin Islands will decide a ballot initiative to reapportion the territory’s 15-member unicameral legislature.
The USVI territorial legislature is unlike state legislatures, which divide districts between areas based on population. The USVI territorial legislature divides districts based on island area with no reference to population. As of 2019, the 15-member legislature consisted of two seven-member districts and one at-large member. Voters select their preferred candidate from a list, and the top seven vote-getters in the multi-member districts are elected. One of the seven-member districts represented the island of St. Croix, and the other seven-member district represented the islands of St. Thomas and St. John. An additional legislator was elected at-large, meaning voters from across USVI voted on candidates for the seat, but the legislator had to be a resident of St. John.
The ballot initiative would replace the territory’s two seven-member legislative districts and one at-large member with four two-member districts, one one-member district, and six at-large members. The legislature would continue to have 15 members. The four two-member districts would represent eastern St. Croix, western St. Croix, eastern St. Thomas, and western St. Thomas. The one single-member district would represent St. John. An additional six legislators would be elected at-large, but three would have to be residents of St. Croix, and three would have to be residents of St. Thomas.
In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to provide the USVI with a ballot initiative process. The number of signatures required to get an initiated state statute placed on the ballot is equal to 10 percent of the registered voters of each legislative district or 41 percent of all registered voters of the Virgin Islands. Proponents of the initiative filed 4,896 valid signatures from the two districts, which was 68 signatures above the requirement.
The U.S. Virgin Islands, abbreviated as USVI, is located in the Caribbean, east of Puerto Rico. USVI is one of the United States’ five inhabited unincorporated territories. The United States purchased the islands from Denmark in 1917, and Congress granted citizenship to U.S. Virgin Islanders in 1927. Like neighboring Puerto Rico, residents of USVI cannot vote for president and do not have a floor-voting representative in Congress. However, USVI does elect a congressional delegate, who can introduce legislation and vote in committees. Stacey Plaskett (D) is the territory’s delegate. USVI’s governor is Albert Bryan (D). Democrats control the legislature.