An Irregular Primary for Puerto Rico Standards
SAN JUAN – After seeing people standing in long lines for periods that sometimes exceeded an hour, the Democratic Party presidential primary in Puerto Rico can certainly by characterized as successful. But that success is yet to be further qualified by the actual tally of the ballots cast because the lines were due to the State Elections Commission (CEE by its Spanish initials) concentrating the number of voting places into a fraction of those usually available during a regular election.
Since early Sunday, people who voted at the Popular Democratic (PDP) and New Progressive (NPP) parties’ primaries then stood in line for more than an hour in some cases to cast their vote for Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. A lucky few only had to walk down a hallway to stand in line, since the voting stations for both the local parties’ and the Democratic primaries were located in the same school. Others, the majority, had to either walk or drive to another school to cast their votes.
In San Juan, the jurisdiction with the greatest number of voters and the highest electoral participation on the island had only 19 polling places designated by the CEE for the Democratic primary. This is about one-tenth of the approximately 180 centers usually available for a regular election. It must be noted that not all 19 voting places were available for San Juan voters.
For instance, San Juan’s Precinct 4, the largest of its five precincts, had nine of said voting places, but six were reserved exclusively for voters assigned to them. Those were the two at Inter American University, the ones at the Rivera Solís, Luz Eneida Colón and El Señorial schools, and the one at Colegio Daskalos. This meant the rest of the voters in the precinct had to choose between the remaining three locations, any of which could be at an undetermined distance from his or her usual voting place.
Something similar happened in Bayamón, but with what appears to be an apparent violation of the Electoral Code.
According to Carmenisa Rivera Santos, voting center coordinator for the Rivera Ponce School in Bayamón, the center was receiving voters from precincts 9, 10, 11 and 12, all of which are part of the “Bayamón Pueblo” area. But this seems contrary to the ad published this week by the CEE stating that, “with limited exceptions, Democratic voters would be able to vote at the Electoral Unit [voting place] closest to their residence, as long as it is within the same precinct.”
Primary officials at Rivera Ponce School were not prepared for the massive influx of voters they saw during the day. As a matter of fact, they did not receive the electoral roll list they were supposed to use to identify voters. From the moment they opened the center, they had to create a list on loose paper sheets of the voters coming in from other precincts, a situation that prompted suspicion among some voters.
Close to midday Sunday, Democratic Party of Puerto Rico President Roberto Prats admitted there were “some irregularities in the process,” but assured all had been or was in the process of being taken care of.
“I ask them all to be patient. I know the lines are long, but rest assured that all standing in line by the time the voting places close will have been able to vote in the presidential primary,” as he stood in line to vote at Colegio San Jorge in Santurce. That line stretched from almost the end of the main hallway out the school’s main entrance and onto the street.
Colegio San Jorge had two voting stations, but both were operating in the same classroom, which confirms allegations from critics of the island’s presidential primary that the local branch of the Democratic Party was not able to recruit enough party members to serve as officials. This is another reason that could explain the long lines.
The very same situation happened at Academia del Perpetuo Socorro school in Miramar, where people were voting in plain sight, without the benefit of a voting booth.
One of the primary officials there, who did not identify herself, said the booths had not arrived by the time voting had begun, so they opted for the desk-facing-the-wall alternative. She said the cardboard booths arrived about an hour after voting had started, but it was decided the voting would continue without the booths.
The CEE had previously announced it had consolidated most of the polling centers usually available in each precinct at election time due to budget limitations. According to Prats, Democrats had 432 polling centers to cast their votes.