Puerto Rico Botches Ballot Delivery, Party Leaders Sue

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Posted: Aug 11, 2020 3:45 PM
Puerto Rico Botches Ballot Delivery, Party Leaders Sue

Source: (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The leading candidates in Puerto Rico’s primary elections moved to sue the Puerto Rican elections committee after the state failed to deliver paper ballots to polling stations. 

Well into the morning, truck drivers sat at distribution centers with empty containers, waiting for the elections commission to release the ballot backlog. Some centers that received notification ahead of time rescheduled their polling hours, causing widespread confusion. Staffers grew impatient and abandoned their posts, while others were ordered to shut down centers by their municipal leaders. Hundreds of voters were forced to return home on Sunday without voting, as centers received ballots hours too late or not at all. 

The elections commission is “not attending to the press,” according to a spokesperson.  

The Financial Oversight and Management Board issued a statement on Sunday excoriating the elections commission for its “dysfunctional” voting operation: “The disruptions today are the result of inefficient organization at an agency that only two weeks ago struggled to procure the printing of ballots for an election that was originally supposed to take place on June 7. This is not an issue of funding.”

Both majority and minority party presidents moved to suspend voting late Sunday, calling for a partial primary the following week. Pandemic circumstances had already compelled officials to delay the election from June to August. The elections commission agreed to suspend voting on Sunday, ruling to only allow voting in locations where stations remained closed throughout the entirety of the election period.

On Tuesday, Gov. Wanda Vasquez sued to allow participation at voting centers that had opened late, not only those that had never opened at all. She also protested efforts to release unofficial results prior to the August 16 redo. 

“The uncertainty created since the process began in morning hours caused thousands of voters to leave the voting centers where chaos and confusion reigned,” she said. The island’s supreme court agreed to take the case.

New Progressive Party leader Pedro Peirluisi, as well as Popular Democratic Party statesmen Sen. Eduardo Bhatia and Carlos Delgado, are advocating for officials to begin counting ballots already cast and publicizing the results. 

Some are attributing the disastrous outcome to the ineptitude of an amateur election commission after Vasquez dismissed vice-presidential electoral commissioners following election reforms passed in June.

The sweeping reform bill weathered criticisms from all parties as it was being discussed. Vasquez said it would provide increased access to absentee voting, but civil liberties organizations and opposition parties took umbrage over an online voting provision. 

They said it would jeopardize election security and reduce public trust in the effectiveness of their vote. The ACLU, which has now filed a separate lawsuit against the Puerto Rico election commission for its failure to deliver ballots, then lobbied against the online voting measure.

“The right to vote isn’t just the right to cast a ballot, but also to have your vote count. Our concern is not only that the voting rights of the Puerto Rican population will run the risk of being tampered with, but also that they won’t necessarily know that their vote counted,” said Mayte Bayolo, an attorney for ACLU’s Puerto Rican branch. 

Responding to fierce opposition, Vasquez cut the online voting provision from the bill before signing it into law.