We are privileged to work with election officials and their work goes far beyond what voters see on Election Day. To shine a light on the important role they play in our democratic process, we launched this Q&A series highlighting their work. We’re happy to branch out in our latest piece to highlight five jurisdictions that often go unnoticed: our US territories! Here, Caroline Fawkes, the Supervisor of Elections of the US Virgin Islands, tells us about her work:
Tell us how you got involved with election administration.
I spent 32 years serving in the National Guard and have always been interested in the trust and transparency that comes with a job in public service. I started this job in 2013 and have been in this role for eight years.
Tell us about voters & elections in the US Virgin Islands
We have 53,854 registered voters spread across four islands, and all four islands have the same voting equipment. In the 2020 election, we had about 800 people vote by mail, which was a big increase from the 200-300 we usually see, because most voters here like voting in person on Election Day.
We have three main political parties: the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands, the Independent Citizens Movement (ICM), and the Republican Party of the Virgin Islands. Our residents are US citizens but we have no electoral votes to cast in the presidential election — meaning we can only participate in the primaries (caucuses). We hold elections every two years — we elect a territorial governor every four years, a delegate to the US Congress, and local senators to the Legislature of the Virgin Islands.
Did your processes change in 2020 due to the pandemic?
We pushed early voting a lot and extended the number of days up to 22. A CARES Act grant of $600,000 helped fund personal protective equipment, hand washing stations, social distancing measures, and other health and safety recommendations. Overall, everything went well.
How do you encourage your voters to participate in the democratic process?
We try to meet voters where they are. We use radio PSAs with local community leaders in different languages, go to schools and universities, and conduct voter registration drives at supermarkets and other places. We also provide direct outreach to voters with disabilities to ensure they can cast their votes on Election Day. Accessible equipment — equipment with features that voters with disabilities can use to privately and independently vote — is really important. Working an election is also a great way to get involved. We have trouble recruiting poll workers and the demographic shifts we’re experiencing here means a lot of poll workers are retiring.
As administrators of our democracy, election officials’ work is so important to carry out our democratic process. How does that responsibility shape your approach to your work?
It’s a herculean task — our office is small but our job is enormous. My job is to make sure the election is transparent and accessible for voters. We’re one community here, and if we make informed decisions and vote, our voices will be heard.
These days, Americans are hearing a lot about the administration of our elections. What don’t Americans know about the election process that you wish they did?
Some people in the states are casting doubt and blame on election systems, but elections are run by your neighbors and even your family members. These folks all feel the brunt of the negative attention in the media, but my hope is that the negativity is cyclical, and that it too shall pass.
There has been an unusual amount of press focused on ballot processing and tabulation. What would you like voters to know about how your office implements transparency and accountability? What systems are in place to ensure that every vote is counted??
No two elections work exactly the same here. We have after-action reports to determine what worked and didn’t work during the election. The processes that work well…. We do them again!
When I came on board, we instituted logic and accuracy testing and invited the public to attend. We also post videos of our processes online. We have strong ballot accounting. Because there are relatively few voters here, recounts that are requested are conducted by hand.
If funding was limitless, what would you like to change or have implemented in your elections processes or infrastructure to make your elections more secure?
Online voter registration! Right now, citizens need to register in person. We would also run more PSAs to get the word out about registering to vote.
What do you as an election official need to safely do your job (and your staff to do their jobs)?
We have not received threats in the USVI since we did not participate in the general presidential election. I support the election workers in the states and have great empathy for the pressure they’re under. It was a well-run election, and despite trials and tribulations, the truth and the right will always come out.
If you, like us, know how important election officials are for our democracy – consider thanking them for their service. Find your local election official at www.verifiedvoting.org/verifier and send them a note of appreciation for all of the work they do. Feel free to send suggestions for other election official heroes we can interview to firstname.lastname@example.org.