Electronic Vote Count for the Primaries up in the air due to Lack of Funds
SAN JUAN- Dávila: The Money has to Appear Things are too far Away
The electronic vote count, which would debut in the general primaries on June 5, is up in the air because the Puerto Rico government’s fiscal woes have prevented payments to Dominion Voting Systems, the company in charge of the initiative.
The Treasury Department has said it does not know when it would be able to carry out the payments, which are estimated at $7 million.
Treasury Secretary Juan Zaragoza said the agency has disbursed a check for $800,000 and that the rest of the money owed would be paid in accordance with the agency’s cash-flow limitations.
“It seems to me a commitment of the government itself, but just as with other commitments, this one has to be tempered to the economic reality and [the agency’s] cash flow,” he said.
Due to a major cash crunch, Treasury has been forced to delay payment of millions of dollars for many government suppliers, as well as refunds for taxpayers.
For her part, State Elections Commission (CEE by its acronym in Spanish) President Liza García warned that if the situation is not resolved in the coming weeks, having the electronic voting system ready in time would be endangered.
García said the CEE has about $8 million earmarked for paying the debt with Dominion, but Treasury has yet to carry out the disbursement. “If this isn’t solved in the coming weeks, it could generate a problem,” she said. “We are almost in mid-February and we need those payments to our suppliers to be made.”
García spoke about the importance of making those payments because the electoral process is at a stage when there are decisions that cannot be backtracked or rescinded due to the lack of time.
CEE: No turning back
“It’s important to know that at this moment in time, it isn’t an option to say that we won’t have the electronic vote count and then do it manually. We have arrived at a point in the calendar where there is no turning back,” she said.
She noted that opting for a manual system, which has been the usual case in elections, requires printing ballots, laws, regulations and other electoral material that leaves one to think if they will be ready in time for the primaries.
“If we have the vote manually, we would have had to already be working on [printing] a series of the laws and regulations, making copies, going through the bids and training. Another thing would be to rethink if the primaries can really be carried out,” she said.
García said the problem of insufficient funds for the electronic vote is compounded by the lack of funds for the primaries, since as recently as on Feb. 2, the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) disbursed $3 million for a total of $7.2 million thus far, of the entire $10 million that had been approved for the primaries. The CEE had requested $15 million for that process.
She added that estimates are currently being worked on to establish the minimum of funds needed to hold the primaries because out of the $3.5 million set apart for the ballots, another $600,000 from the Electoral Fund was used for the Working People’s Party.
She explained that the rest of the money is used for materials such as ballot boxes, voting booths and briefcases for officials.
After a bidding process, Dominion was selected last year to oversee and manage the thousands of machines needed for the electronic vote count for both the June primaries and the November general elections.
According to the arrangement reached with Dominion, the CEE has to pay $38.8 million—in installments—and after a year, the machines become CEE property.
For his part, Zaragoza said he would soon meet with García to “establish clear expectations and when they will be paid.
“I hope by [this] week to have a clearer picture [on what is to be done]. When it isn’t [an agency claiming payments], it’s the transportation companies, the therapists,” he said, as he dramatized the fragile situation of the government’s cash flow problems.
Meanwhile, the electoral commissioner of the New Progressive Party, Jorge Dávila Torres, suggested that the CEE should go to court to ensure that the payments to Dominion are made. He claimed that at least $3 million of the $8 million that are held in an account are federal funds.
“The money has to appear. Things are too far ahead. There are already nearly 2,000 machines in Puerto Rico,” Dávila said.
Zaragoza referred questions regarding those federal funds to the OMB. However, when asked by Caribbean Business, an OMB official stressed that “at the moment, the issue of payment to Dominion corresponds with Treasury.”