Friday, March 24, 2023

An Investment in Democracy Worth Every Penny

By on April 7, 2016

When Dominion Voting President Javier Jiménez, whose company is tasked with overhauling the State Elections Commission’s (CEE by its Spanish initials) electronic voting system, tells you that he has “very good employees” in response to the question, “Do you have the money to get the job done?”—it is time to start worrying. The response is a sign that the CEE does not have the money to fund Dominion Voting System’s upgrade of the elections scrutiny system, the money to get the job done right.

In his months-long investigation, Politics Editor Ismael Torres discovered the CEE is facing severe challenges with the New Progressive Party (NPP) primary between Pedro Pierluisi and Ricardo Rosselló looming large on June 5, and general elections towering as a massive challenge in November.

The CEE contracted Dominion—at a cost of some $38.8 million—to install a state-of-the-art computer system that will electronically scrutinize the votes directly at polling stations. The overhaul calls for the installation of some 6,075 machines, training personnel and implementing the needed software.

To date, the CEE has already paid Dominion $8 million, but it has a payment of $7 million due in June and the remainder to be paid in installments across the next five years. With the commonwealth government facing a severe liquidity crisis, it seems unlikely that a June payment will be made, which means the more than 3,000 machines that have already arrived in Puerto Rico will not be installed to count votes, but rather will continue to collect dust in a warehouse.

Puerto Rico’s electoral system has been observed by election contingents from across the world as a model of democracy. In tight contests such as the 2004 and 2012 elections—with less than a 0.5% margin of difference—recounts were conducted in a reliable fashion that validated the electoral mandates of the people. The system that Dominion is implementing is not something that can be started at the last minute or be aborted in midstream.

There are people to train and systems to test— which is not done overnight. All told, the CEE will require $18 million for the electronic scrutiny of votes, $30 million to hold the general elections and another $34 million for the overall operation of the commission. Then there is another $10 million for the June primaries.

If nary a penny has been assigned to a process that is bound to cost at least $92 million and the date for a first electoral contest—the NPP primary—is drawing near, why is there no action being taken? It is an exercise in self-deception to believe that somehow the money to hold elections will magically appear when Puerto Rico’s government is on the verge of insolvency.

During an interview with Caribbean Business, CEE President Liza García Vélez stressed the importance of the electronic vote count in providing greater opportunity for emerging parties and independent candidates—who perhaps lack the foot soldiers of democracy to oversee results at polling stations—to have the certainty that their votes will be adjudicated properly. The new system guarantees the transparency of results come election night.

Puerto Rico’s electoral law establishes that the Governor and Legislature will assign sufficient funding to host primary contests and the general elections, in addition to funding that will cover the CEE budget during election years. It behooves the CEE to file legal action to demand funding at once. Democracy hangs in the balance.


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