The USVI Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse Criticizes the Legislature’s ConCon Enabling Act
March 27, 2023
USVI’s Legislature is currently considering amendments to the constitutional convention enabling act it approved on December 29, 2022 and the Governor signed into law on January 19, 2023. Under the enabling act, elections for constitutional convention delegates will be held on Nov. 4, 2024. As passed, the enabling act, Act No. 8681 (Bill No. 34-0153), includes mutually inconsistent information that makes it impossible for the Elections System of the Virgin Islands to implement. Amendments to fix the inconsistencies were originally scheduled to be introduced at a hearing on March 15, 2023 and were then postponed with no announced new date. USVI voters approved calling a constitutional convention on Nov. 3, 2020.
The USVI Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse, a project of The State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse, has published an issue brief criticizing the enabling act and recommending amendments to make it more democratic. “No democratic task is more important for a people than drafting a constitution, a document that is the foundation of any modern democracy and serves to limit a legislature’s powers,” said J.H. Snider, editor of The USVI Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse. “But the enabling act the Legislature passed turns what is supposed to be an independent constitutional convention empowering the people into a power grab for itself.”
Snider specifically criticizes the provisions in the enabling act that give the Legislature effective control of the convention. This includes forcing the convention to use the Legislature’s and Governor’s legal staff as counsel, making delegates beg the Legislature for funds to run a convention, spending $150,000, half the convention’s total budget, on a PR campaign to win public ratification of the convention’s proposed constitution, preventing fair representation in delegate elections via multi-member districts combined with other electoral devices, and favoring one group of delegate candidates over another by only guaranteeing no loss of pay or position to the government, rather than private, sector candidates who win.
He also proposes amendments to the enabling act to make the convention the truly independent body it is supposed to be. This includes favoring electoral competition rather than government elites and special interests by not rushing delegate elections, holding an open primary in multi-member districts to narrow down the field of delegates, using ranked-choice voting in multi-member districts for the general delegate election, banning government officials, including incumbent and retiring legislators, from running for delegate, banning delegates from running for another office, including the Legislature, until at least a year after the convention adjourns, and paying all delegates equally rather than favoring government elites.
About The USVI Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse
The USVI Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse is a project of The State Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse, which covers constitutional convention information in U.S. states and territories. Its mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research on USVI’s constitutional convention history and, based on that research, provide recommendations for the public and policymakers.
About J.H. Snider
J.H. Snider, the editor of The USVI Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse, has devoted his career to addressing difficult democratic reform issues, including issues that would make incumbent legislators more democratically accountable. He has been a fellow in the U.S. Congress (via the American Political Science Association), Northwestern University’s Political Science Department, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, and New America, a DC-based think tank. He holds a PhD in American Government from Northwestern University and undergraduate and master’s degrees from Harvard University. He lives in the DC area and will next visit USVI in late April 2023, when he will be available for media interviews.
Recent Articles by J.H. Snider on USVI’s Constitutional Convention Enabling Act
- Snider, J.H., Implementing the Constitutional Convention Voters Approved in 2020, The Virgin Islands Consortium, March 24, 2023.
- Snider, J.H., Where a U.S. Territory Can’t Get Its Own Constitution: A Self-Serving Legislature Drives the Plot in a Story of Democratic Failure, Zocalo Public Square, March 2, 2023.
- H. Snider’s presentation, Reforming the Process of Democratic Reform, at the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, Mexico City, March 2, 2023.