Let the Primaries Begin
Puerto Rico’s rich democratic tradition will be on display come Sunday, June 5, when the New Progressive Party (NPP), the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and the Democratic Party hold primary contests on the island. The question everyone is asking themselves is will the polls be ready for prime time as this primary event marks the first time that Puerto Rico will use the electronic scrutiny of votes in elections.
The State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish initials) will open 2,848 polling stations for the pro-statehood NPP and 1,653 polling stations for the pro-commonwealth PDP, with a little frosting thrown on top with 1,510 polling stations for the Democratic Party of Puerto Rico, which is hosting the presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
Add some 44 municipal contests to pick mayoral candidates for the NPP, 12 candidates vying for the six at-large NPP House candidacies, and nine candidates vying to fill six at-large seats in the Senate. Slice in some bananas—the contests to decide NPP and PDP candidacies for resident commissioner in the general elections—and a cherry on top—the primary between Ricky Rosselló and Pedro Pierluisi to pick the NPP’s candidate for governor in the November elections against the PDP’s David Bernier—and you have a dangerous sugar rush.
The confluence of so many contests and the test run of electronic scrutiny by Dominion Voting present significant challenges because the company has been short of time and money to adequately train personnel at the polling stations.
We should also worry that the Democratic Party is not employing the safeguards of democracy that characterize local elections. For instance, the typically employed inking of index fingers and the lack of polling booths guaranteeing privacy are two missing ingredients that give reason for concern.
Puerto Rico’s electoral history has been marked by events—recounts in razor-thin elections mandated by margins that are less than 0.05% of the vote—that have been studied by international observers as a model to follow. Puerto Rico’s electoral law is not Coke or Pepsi—to borrow from an analogy during hearings for the self-determination of Puerto Rico’s status. Then president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party Rubén Berríos explained that Puerto Rico is more like Dr. Pepper. The same holds true for our elections law. For instance, Puerto Rico has something called the pivazo, which are double mixed votes for one party and one of the candidates for either resident commissioner or governor belonging to the opposition.
Those pivazos—3,500 of them to be exact—were cast for the PDP candidate for governor and the NPP in the 2004 elections—thus, they were called double mixed votes. Then, there were some 7,472 votes cast for the NPP candidate for resident commissioner, Luis Fortuño, and the PDP. This, thanks to a campaign by the PDP that targeted supporters of Carlos Pesquera in Precincts 7 and 9, who were angry with then-gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rosselló. Prior to that election, the populares sent out ballots to show those people how to vote double mixed to punish Rosselló; the result was a first mixed government with a governor from one party, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá (PDP), and a resident commissioner from the opposition, in Fortuño (NPP).
Who can forget lawyers Theodore B. Olson, one of the lead lawyers in the Bush v. Gore 2000 recount, trying to dismantle Puerto Rico’s double mixed vote using the one-man, one-vote doctrine as he was being cross-examined by U.S. Appellate Judge Juan Torruella in Boston. It was not pretty.
Come Sunday, we must all be vigilant; Puerto Rico’s electoral system has made too many strides forward to take a step back now.