Sanders’ Campaign Alleges Fraud in Puerto Rico Presidential Primary
SAN JUAN – With just hours before the start of the presidential primaries in Puerto Rico, members of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ team accused the leadership of the local Democratic Party of fraud, saying they hindered the certification process of their voting center officials.
The Hispanic vote director for the campaign of the Vermont senator, Betsy Franceschini, denounced a series of irregularities her work team faced Friday while thousands of inmates at the island’s correctional facilities were voting.
“Our Bernie Sanders officials were never certified. We had 40 officials we submitted in time for the prisons. Not one of them was certified, while all of theirs [Hillary Clinton’s] went in. Attorney Manny Suárez had to go in order for us to be let in. This is a great fraud,” Franceschini said in a phone interview with Caribbean Business.
“I am appalled at the remarks,” Puerto Rico Democratic Party President Roberto Prats said Saturday. “Ms. Franceschini is playing a preemption game because she knows of a potentially serious issue regarding one of their poll workers who took two boxes full of cast ballots from one of the prisons and later that evening delivered them to a regional elections committee center, claiming she did not know what to do with them. The matter is under investigation.”
“The claim that the Democratic Party is delaying the certification of the Sanders’ poll workers is preposterous,” Prats added. “The first complete set of poll workers for [Sunday’s] primary we certified were all from Sanders’ campaign.”
In an internal document CB obtained Friday morning, a group of Sanders officials claimed that Prats and the local Democratic Party elections commissioner, Ramón López de Azúa, were “holding back the certifications of Bernie Sanders’ voting center officials.”
“Inmate voting is handled not by the Democratic Party but by the Commonwealth’s Absentee and Advance Vote Administrative Board. I have been told the Sanders campaign submitted their prison poll worker list at 6:10 p.m. on the evening prior to inmate voting and began complaining early the following morning that the board had not completed its poll worker certifications. But in the end, despite the late submissions, the Sanders campaign had representatives at the prison voting places,” Prats explained.
“They did not deliver the certifications of the officials for the voting and our officials had to go into the prisons to put some pressure,” reads the internal document, which also says that if they did not receive the certification by Friday, they would carry out a protest in front of State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish initials) headquarters in San Juan.
When asked by Caribbean Business about the situation Friday, Prats said the list of Sanders’ voting center officials was received Thursday afternoon, and that he expected the certifications to take place during the afternoon Friday.
Regarding the fact that the leadership of the Democratic Party in Puerto Rico – which has expressed itself publicly in favor of the candidacy of former first lady Hillary Clinton – has faced problems in the recruitment process of officials for voting centers, which would put the process’ transparency at risk, Prats denied there was any inconvenience that would prevent holding the primary.
“It is not true that the primaries have fallen. We have officials, and they keep arriving. We are going to have 432 voting centers with officials to receive the voters,” Prats said.
Without mentioning participation estimates, Prats said he foresees the event “will be an example of wide electoral participation.” In previous interviews with the president of the local Democratic Party, he has mentioned that more than 600,000 voters would participate in these primaries.
However the local committeeman of the party, Kenneth McClintock, said that due to the decrease in the number of centers made available – from 1,510 to 432 – participation could be around 300,000 voters.
“There will be a lot of people who have not realized that one has to value the right to the limited presidential vote we have,” adding that if the voting process is easy, people will go and vote, but won’t of it is made difficult. “To them, I say that the good things in life are not easy. All officials are being put on the lists to work. The process of producing the certification documents is ongoing.”
These facts presuppose that the great activism and the number of Sanders sympathizers interested in taking part in the primary has taken the island’s Democratic Party leadership by surprise.
Ismael Torres contributed to this story.
This story’s headline has been corrected to reflect the Bernie Sanders campaign’s allegation.